Mountain lion hoax costs city of Aiken thousands

Mountain lion hoax costs city of Aiken thousands

AIKEN, SC (WFXG) - The man accused of falsely reporting a missing mountain lion in Aiken is behind bars, but officials said the hoax cost probably cost the city thousands of dollars.

Billy Lunsford reported Sunday his mountain lion went missing after an attempted burglary at a pet store, and this sent the Aiken Department of Public Safety on a massive search.

"We not only relied on our own resources, our public safety officers and our animal control officer," said Lt. J.D. Mahoney with the Aiken Department of Public Safety. "However, we contacted the Aiken County Animal Control services as well as South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and up to, including their state biologist."

But just how much is the estimated total for this lion hunt hoax?

"I'd say the total resources that have been put into this investigation so far exceed a couple thousand dollars," Mahoney said.

Mahoney said the search could give Lunsford some real problems if he's found guilty.

"He can face a fine in excess of $1,000 and jail time," Mahoney said. "It's a violation of a city ordinance. He could spend up to 30 days in jail if he's found guilty."

We reached out to the pet store again today for comment, but the owner wasn't available.

Mahoney said this is an ongoing investigation, so hopefully they get some answers soon.

"He'll have his day in court and hopefully we get some answers then," Mahoney said.

People in downtown Aiken said they don't know about jail time, but they do think that Lunsford should pay the city back for the thousands of dollars it cost them to find this supposed mountain lion.

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