MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Can you imagine swimming with wild alligators in the Everglades? It's not something anyone would ever consider doing in their wildest dreams except for Hal Kreitman.
CBS4's David Sutta recently spent some time with Kreitman in the wilds of the Everglades. The former Mr. Miami bodybuilder may be the craziest person David has ever met or the most fearless man in Miami.
As he marched into water about waist high, a large alligator charged at him. It's easily as big as him. Kreitman corrected David. "He's about 7 and half foot." A good two feet taller. "He's got more teeth too. About 80." he added.
Kreitman, a self-proclaimed Alligator Whisperer invited David and his CBS4 News crew to see something you never see. Wild alligators he pets like kitty cats.
As the 7-and-half foot alligator charged, Kreitman held his ground. The gator suddenly stopped. Kreitman reached from below its mouth and took a firm grip on the alligator's lower jaw. "Are you crazy?" David asked him. "What is crazy? Crazy is just what another person wouldn't do. I don't call it crazy. It's adventurous. It's a rush. You can take drugs or do whatever for a rush. To me that's a rush," he explained.
How Kreitman ended up here is quite interesting. Last year he was busted for insurance fraud. When questioned about it, Kreitman began to explain how he was the real victim.
"Not only was I not involved in it, I didn't even know it was going on until the FBI banged down my door with 18 assault rifles and said you are under arrest for healthcare fraud," he said. Kreitman was working as a chiropractor for a clinic that was staging accidents. Kreitman continued, "I had no idea these people are staging accidents and putting the patients in front of me. They were coached." A jury didn't see it that way. At a trial this year they found him guilty. In early October a judge sentenced him. "8 years and a 1.6 million dollar restitution," Kreitman explained. Then he started laughing. "I just sit and laugh at the judge. 8 years? 1.6 million dollars?"
In a moment of despair he ended up in the Everglades. He denies it was an attempt at suicide by alligator. "I was going through some hard times at the time. But I don't think that was the thought in my head. But there was something that said just get closer. I didn't put my camera down and say come eat me. I had my camera in hand and I was nervous. Like they say sometimes it has to pour before the sun shines."
When the gators didn't eat him, Hal saw the light. He began visiting his new found friends regularly. He explained, "It just got more and more daring over time to the point I got underwater. Snorkeled and got underwater shots and I noticed that they are not the vicious creatures that the news and people make them out to be."
That's not to say their hasn't been some close calls. He held out his cracked Samsung phone. "I got within three inches of his eye on the side and that's his attack spot. So he swung his head. Grabbed my cell phone, swam back to his corner. I was going through the pond trying to get my cell phone because I saw it sticking out of his mouth."
That's right. He was chasing an alligator in the water to get his phone back. Kreitman looks back on it and finally agreed. "Crazy? Yeah. And I have the video. It's incredible." The phone still works amazingly. He's incredibly lucky. He could have lost more than a phone. He could have lost the hand holding it. Kreitman fired back, "Could be. I could have gotten in an accident on the way here. Could be, should have, would have. I don't live by those rules."
Over five months Hal has turned this into a full-fledged business called Alligator Experience. On Facebook he posts videos and pictures of his adventures. For $200 bucks he will take you in the water, up close, to swim with alligators. Kreitman is proud of his new venture. "I'm giving people the chance to get closer to nature."
David questioned whether he's taking it too far. "You don't think you are harassing them?" David asked. Kreitman responded, "Absolutely not. Do you think I'm harassing? Do I go at them? Or do I sit in the water and just stay there and they come at me. And if they get too close I can just nudge them away. Harassing? Pulling on the tail, jumping on their back, go and swim after them and them running away," he said. In his opinion it's not like they are riding dolphins or anything remotely close.
As David and crew filmed his fearless moves, Kreitman appeared a bit nervous. It wasn't the alligators. It was who was driving down the desolate road. He could hear the noise of car traveling in their direction and asked, "What kind of car is that?" If it was an SUV he would climb out of the water and grab a still camera. He would begin to pretend to be taking photos of the alligators. It was clear some sort of cat and mouse game was being played. When pressed about it, Kreitman admitted law enforcement had a different take on his "Alligator Experience."
As the SUV passed, he resumed his alligator whisperer skills. A pickup truck pulled up. A guy and girl hopped out and began to watch. An elderly couple, toting binoculars pulled up and began to watch. The observers all snapped photos of this wild scene. Kreitman put on a mask and snorkel. He grabbed our GoPro camera to get a close up shot of the alligators underwater. The gators swim away though. Suddenly they are skittish. Moments later, undercover officers appeared.
An SUV came racing down the roadway. As it pulled up, police lights suddenly appeared in the grill. An FWC officer jumped out of the car and began ordering Kreitman to come out. "Sir come here. Step out of the water," said the officer. Kreitman, donning just his bathing suit walked barefoot over to the back of the SUV. David looked over at the passerby's that were observing. The elderly couple had disappeared. The young couple pulled out badges. They are exactly what Kreitman was worried about. Florida Fish and Wildlife officers. Unknown to David and crew, they had been following Kreitman since he left his house that morning.
FWC spokesman Jorge Pino explained they needed to stop Kreitman before he went any further. "We strongly believe that if he would have continued this behavior someone would have gotten hurt." Pino said. As they placed Hal in handcuffs for harassing alligators, David learned FWC had been on to Hal's gig for a while via social media and finally they had had enough. When they searched his car they found business cards and ads. Business was ramping up. Pino explained, "We cannot condone somebody going off into the Everglades and pretend as if he's an alligator whisperer if you will. And have other people come with him and endanger those people." It was clear to them the alligators were not as fearful of people as they used to be. FWC worried the more Kreitman conditioned them to befriend humans the more risk the alligators posed to innocent people who came across them.
As investigators searched Kreitman's car they found something quite damning. A cooler stocked with a few pounds of cut up meat. It was classic gator bait. In his defense, Kreitman said, "You never saw me feed them." In the end, FWC didn't need to. The Alligator Whisperer's gig was up.
Kreitman is looking at felonies and misdemeanors that could land him in a jail for a year if convicted. That's on top of the 8 year sentence for insurance fraud that he's supposed to start serving in January. To put it lightly, it hasn't been his year.
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