ST. PETERSBURG, Fla – The family of a Florida man who went missing in 1997 and appeared in the hit series “Tiger King” has hired a lawyer and is offering $ 100,000 in exchange for information to help resolve the case .
Attorney John Phillips held a press conference in Tampa on Monday and announced an independent investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance. He also said that on behalf of the Lewis family, he has filed a lawsuit against Lewis’s second wife, Carole Baskin, in an attempt to remove him and make him speak on the record. He and his family have also paid for Tampa area signs asking for information about the case.
Lewis disappeared the day before a planned trip to Costa Rica and was never found. He was declared legally dead in 2002. He and Baskin started the Animal Sanctuary, which later became Big Cat Rescue Corp. in Tampa, Florida.
Three of Lewis̵7; daughters were at the press conference. Lewis’s youngest daughter, Gale Rathbone, expressed gratitude to those interested in the case.
“Unfortunately, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our quest for closure and truth has also become your mission, “she said.” We all know by now that (Lewis) was not a perfect man. But does justice just deserve perfection from us? “
In an email sent to the Associated Press on Monday, Baskin said she would not comment. “It’s my policy not to discuss pending court cases until it is resolved,” she wrote. “I had told some newspapers that I thought the August 10 press conference was just a publicity stunt, but at the time I was not aware there would be pending trials.”
The case of Lewis, and Baskin, appeared in “Tiger King.” Baskin is still the owner of Big Cat Rescue and lobbies for the removal of private wildlife ownership.
“Tiger King” was a documentary series about Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” a former Oklahoma exclusive zoo that loves big cats.
Earlier this year, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder plot for hire. He was convicted of trying to hire someone to kill Baskin, who had tried to shut him down, accusing the Oklahoma Zoo of abusing animals and selling big cat cubs.
In retaliation, Maldonado-Passage raised questions about Baskin’s ex-husband, Jack “Don” Lewis. The documentary extensively covered Maldonado-Passage’s repeated allegations that Baskin killed her husband and possibly fed him to her tigers. Baskin has not been charged with any crime and has consistently issued statements refuting the allegations made in the series.
Maldonaldo-Passage is in jail. A federal judge in June gave control of the formerly run Maldonado-Passage – also known as Joe Exotic – Oklahoma Zoo to Big Cat Rescue Corp.
Baskin previously sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark and copyright infringement and won a $ 1 million civil lawsuit against him. The judge found that ownership of the zoo was fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage’s mother in an attempt to evade paying the trial.
In March, the Hillsborough County Sheriff sought advice on Lewis ‘case and announced the reopening of Lewis’ case.