With hands secured by yellow handcuffs, Sergiy Matirniy on Friday said he developed an interest in chemistry at school when he was about 13.
“First time I (saw) periodic table of elements, that’s when it hit me,” Matirniy, 25, said in a small room at the St. Lucie County jail. “Within few weeks I knew it all by heart, numbers, atomic weights, Latin names.”
The Ukrainian-born Matirniy said he assembled his equipment over the past several years as part of his hobby.
That equipment, St. Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara said Thursday, was suspected of being part of a complex methamphetamine lab, capable of producing 2 ounces of the drug in a half-hour — a “tremendous” amount.
Not so, Matirniy said.
“It’s actual real lab,” Matirniy said. “That’s been my hobby since seventh grade.”
Matirniy was arrested Tuesday on a misdemeanor obstruction of justice charge after sheriff’s officials say he made unusual comments at a pool store and after he didn’t follow a deputy’s orders.
Investigators on Wednesday executed a search warrant at the home on Southeast Buckingham Terrace, where he said he’s been living for about a week, after finding plastic ties, electronic devices with wires, switch boxes and other items in his Mitsubishi. The next day, sheriff’s investigators and Drug Enforcement Administration officials — some sporting full-body protective suits and respirators — spent hours at the home handling the alleged meth lab.
“If I would be making drugs I don’t think I would be sitting here around, like, broke, I guess,” he said with a laugh. “Seriously, I wouldn’t be sitting in St. Lucie, there (are) like so much better places out there.”
Asked what he’d make with the equipment, Matirniy named one chemical that can be used to make another as an example.
“It’s an art, just like cooking,” he said. “You take some potatoes, carrots and meat and you make a soup, but like there are so many ways to make it if you have cookbooks.”
At the pool store, Matirniy reportedly asked about calcium hypochloride and then pool “shock” — a super-chlorinating substance — and apparently raised suspicions when he said he wanted to make chloroform.
“There is nothing bad about chloroform,” he said. “I was honest, I said like I make chloroform, I’m a homemade chemist. That’s it.
“So they were like, are you going to make a bomb? I’m like, ‘No, don’t you think if anyone was going to make a bomb they would get something else, not the pool shock,” he said. “I have no idea what can you make with the pool shock (that) is explosive.”
Matirniy on Friday said the items in his car were to “soup up” the vehicle, not to make bombs.
“Like things you can see in a jet, you will see in my car,” he said.
Matirniy said he moved to the United States in 2000. He claimed he attended several engineering trade schools before a five-year stint in the U.S. Navy. He also claimed he spent four years involved in a counter-narcotics task force there. “I’m such a sophisticated person, I guess that like some people see me as not being normal,” Matirniy said, noting he had a psychiatric evaluation Friday.
His father, Alex Matirniy, 54, lives in Brooklyn and seemed almost exasperated when describing his son’s passion for customizing and modifying his car and his interest in a range of esoteric subjects. He said one of Sergiy Matirniy’s vehicles resembled the Space Shuttle on the inside.
“He is too smart,” said the elder Matirniy, who said he left Ukraine in 1993 and works as an electrician. “He’s a little bit off line.”
Alex Matirniy said he didn’t think his son was doing drugs.
“If it’s real charges and they can prove it, charge him,” Alex Matirniy said of the alleged meth lab. “If they cannot prove it, no case.”
A DEA spokesman referred questions to the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, and a sheriff’s official said charges in regard to the alleged meth lab are pending.
Sergiy Matirniy said he posed no threat to neighbors and wasn’t making anything dangerous.
“If chemistry is a prohibited hobby today, shouldn’t we normal people know about that?” he said.
He suspected authorities thought it was a meth lab because they want the home, which is owned by his girlfriend, and the trailered boat behind it.
“My girlfriend and her mother spend half of their life trying to get it,” Sergiy Matirniy said. “Now these people (are) thinking they have jurisdiction over all that.”
Natalya Voynarovskaya, Sergiy Matirniy’s girlfriend, said the situation surprised her.
“Big surprise is not a word for it,” she said. “I really don’t have any words or how else to describe it.”
Sergiy Matirniy was arrested near Lisbon, Ohio in July on charges of having drug paraphernalia for a marijuana pipe found in the car, speeding, obstruction of official business, carrying concealed weapons and improperly carrying a firearm in a vehicle, according to the website of the Morning Journal newspaper. A hearing was scheduled for Sept. 21.
While searching the car, police said they found cameras fastened to the windows, wires