A Florida county sheriff has declared that the will of Don Lewis – Carole Baskin’s long-missing husband – was forged.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said on Tuesday, June 2, that two different experts have deemed Lewis’ will “100 percent a forgery,” per Tampa Bay CBS station WTSP reported the same day.
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“We knew that before,” Chronister said. “Because the girl who came forward and said ‘Hey, I was forced to witness and say that I witnessed this signature.’ The problem was the statute of limitations had already expired. The will had already been executed at that point.”
The Hillsborough County Sheriff added that the “only reason” legal action hasn’t been taken is due to the statute of limitations’ expiration.
“There’s no recourse,” the sheriff explained. “A judge deemed it valid, so the civil side of it would be execution of the will, the disbursements of the funds is one thing. But then you have the criminal side of it, it’s unable to be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations.”
Chronister added that Lewis’ will being deemed a forgery “certainly cast another shadow of suspicion” on his disappearance.
“Investigators have some great leads, they’re working through them. I hope something pans out,” Chronister said.
Fans of the Netflix docuseries Tiger King may remember that Baskin’s previous husband went missing in 1997 and was declared deceased five years later. Some viewers believe that the Tiger King star was responsible for her ex-husband’s disappearance, but she has denied she had anything to do with it.
“Don was not easy to live with and like most couples, we had our moments,” Baskin said in a statement on the Big Cats Rescue website after Tiger King was released earlier this year. “But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance. When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police. I encouraged them to check out the rumors from Costa Rica, and separately I hired a private investigator.”
Chronister’s comments come just one day after Baskin was granted control of the Oklahoma zoo property that was formerly operated by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic.”
Last year, Maldonado-Passage was convicted of paying a hitman $3,000 to eliminate Baskin in addition to being found guilty on multiple charges of violating both the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and the Endangered Species Act. The former zoo owner was sentenced to 22 years in prison and is currently being held in a Dallas-Fort Worth medical center.
On Monday, June 1, a judge found the property to have previously been fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage’s mother years ago.
The G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park has been operated by Maldonado-Passage’s former business partner, Jeff Lowe, who now has to vacate from the property in 120 days, including removing all the animal’s currently living there.
“If the need arises to make other plans to place the animals in new homes, Big Cat Rescue and the animal welfare organizations that have previously successfully placed big cats from large facilities in new homes stand ready to assist,” Baskin previously said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
However, in a statement from Lowe, he said he didn’t need Baskin’s help.
“Although I am not personally named in the lawsuit, it appears that Carole Baskin and her desire to exact revenge against Joe Exotic trumps the livelihood of the families that came together to save her life,” Lowe said.
He added, “Without our efforts, it is well known that Carole would no longer be here. We anticipated Carole Baskin gaining title to the former park that once belonged to Joe Exotic many years ago. It is my understanding that she will also be taking the cages from the zoo, which thankfully means that the animals that she has will finally have the proper amount of space to move around.”
Lowe said that the animals will ve re-homed at the new Tiger King Park, which is set to open in Thackerville, Oklahoma, this September.