ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – The family of a Florida man who disappeared in 1997 and appeared on the hit television series “Tiger King,” hired a lawyer and offered $ 100,000 in exchange for information to help resolve the case.
Lawyer John Phillips held a press conference in Tampa on Monday and announced an independent investigation into Don Lewis’s disappearance. He also said that on behalf of the Lewis family, he took legal action against Lewis’ second wife, Carole Baskin, with the aim of impeaching her and making her speak officially. He and the family also paid for billboards in the Tampa area asking for information about the case.
Lewis went missing a day before a planned trip to Costa Rica and has never been found. He was declared legally dead in 2002. He and Baskin founded the animal sanctuary, which later became Big Cat Rescue Corp. in Tampa, Florida.
Three of Lewis’s daughters were at the press conference. Lewis’s youngest daughter, Gale Rathbone, has expressed gratitude for those interested in the case.
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“Surprisingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has also become your mission, ”she said. “We all know now that (Lewis) was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?
In an email to The Associated Press on Monday, Baskin said she would not comment. “My policy has been not to discuss pending disputes until they have been resolved,” she wrote. “I had told some news outlets that I thought the August 10 press conference was just a publicity stunt, but at that point I didn’t know there was going to be a litigation. Classes.”
The case of Lewis and Baskin were featured in “Tiger King”. Baskin is still the owner of Big Cat Rescue and is pushing for the end of private ownership of wildlife.
“Tiger King” was a documentary series about Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” an eccentric former Oklahoma zookeeper who loves big cats.
Earlier this year, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder for pay plot. He was convicted of trying to hire someone to kill Baskin, who tried to silence him, accusing the Oklahoma Zoo of abusing animals and selling large kittens.
In retaliation, Maldonado-Passage raised questions about Baskin’s ex-husband, Jack “Don” Lewis. The documentary largely covered Maldonado-Passage’s repeated accusations that Baskin killed her husband and possibly fed him to his tigers. Baskin has not been charged with any crime and has repeatedly released statements refuting the charges made in the series.
Maldonaldo-Passage is in prison. In June, a federal judge granted control of the Oklahoma Zoo that was previously managed by Maldonado-Passage – also known as Joe Exotic – to Big Cat Rescue Corp.
Baskin had previously sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringement and obtained a million dollar civil judgment against him. The judge found that the ownership of the zoo had been fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage’s mother in an attempt to avoid paying the judgment.
In March, the Hillsborough County Sheriff sought advice in the Lewis case and announced the reopening of the Lewis case.