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Discovery Channel To Air DEA Bomber's Story
Published On: July 4, 2001          Updated On: August 07, 2001
İ Terence T. Gorski, 2001

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Jeffrey Matthews, the notorious Fort Myers Beach drug runner and bomber of  the local DEA offices in 1990, will be coming to prime time on the Discovery Channel.

Matthews - now serving a life sentence - made history at the tender age of 23 by being the only person to blow up a DEA office on American soil.  He was ruthless in his domination of the lucrative Fort Myers Beach cocaine trade. He even ordered the murder of a federal informant, another dealer snared by investigators who was going to testify against him before a grand jury.

Representatives for New Dominion Pictures, which produces the series "The FBI Files" for the Discovery Channel, are in Lee County this week to begin filming for a show chronicling Matthews' criminal exploits.

David O'Donnell, associate producer for "The FBI Files," said the story is a fascinating one.  "It's just one of those really amazing investigations where the good guys figure out everything, although they're blocked at every turn, and the good guys win," he said.

The fire bombing turned the national spotlight on Fort Myers. Using a pipe bomb - packed with gunpowder and bullets - attached to a five-gallon gas can, Matthews was bent on retaliating for his indictment on drug charges.

The spectacular early-morning blaze burned the DEA offices to the ground. Firefighters couldn't get near the building because more than 300,000 rounds of ammunition were stored inside. The fire also destroyed evidence in a number of drug cases.

Local and state investigators had been circling Matthews for months as the violent Beach drug trade spawned a number of murders and shootings. Those cases were already high profile in the local press before the bombing.

Tom Kontinos, who now works for the State Attorney's Office, was a Lee County sheriff's investigator assigned to investigate the murders.

"We had the string of murders that were obviously drug related. One of those murders was of a DEA informant, which angered them because they don't like losing informants," he said. "We were trying to solve the murder cases by making drug cases. We were trying to kill two birds with one stone, and certainly shut down Jeff's drug enterprise. When this guy was going around shooting people and killing people, obviously we had to stop him."

Matthews sat at the top of the Beach cocaine trade, controlling the market from his pizzeria, Andretti's. Special customers could get cocaine to go.

After the bombing, Matthews - a dedicated gun collector who amassed a large cache of powerful weapons - disappeared.

It seemed like Lee County was under siege. Scores of federal agents descended on the area. Helicopters whirled overhead. More than 100 officers were called in from surrounding counties.

Judges, prosecutors and witnesses were put under guard. shotgun-toting officers stood outside the federal and state courthouses. SWAT teams and bomb squads were deployed before investigators went into storage units and homes rented by Matthews.

"It was a tidal wave of the federal government coming into a small town. That's what it was like," Kontinos said. "The building gets blown up, and Washington, D.C. descends down on us. It was pretty chaotic."

Three weeks later, Matthews was captured while using a pay phone in Orlando.  He eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges of running a continuing criminal enterprise involved in drug dealing and a murder and was sentenced to life in prison. He could have faced a federal death penalty if he didn't reach a plea agreement.

Matthews, now 34, also pleaded guilty to two state charges of second-degree murder and one of being an accessory after the fact to murder and was sentenced to 100 years in prison to be served at the same time as the federal sentence.

Matthews maintained he wasn't the triggerman in any of the killings or shootings. That's what made him so dangerous, Kontinos said.  "He was like the quarterback," he said. "He would give the ball to someone else to run with."

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