Tiger King star Joe Exotic wants to help the family of Don Lewis, Carole Baskin's missing second husband, after they announced a $100,000 reward for any new information that may lead to answers in Lewis' disappearance. Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is living behind bars after he was convicted for hiring a hitman to kill Baskin and on 17 charges of animal abuse. The Lewis family's attorney announced an independent investigation into Lewis' disappearance and a new lawsuit against Baskin.
John Phillips, the attorney for Lewis' family, told TMZ Exotic reached out on Tuesday, the day after the family's news conference in Tampa. The disgraced former zoo owner and Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate said he was offering information from his own private investigations into Baskin. Lewis' daughters are interested in working with Exotic, but he will first have to speak with Phillips to see if he has any useful information.
Four of these new billboards offering a $100,000 reward from the family of Don Lewis are displayed around #Tampa ahead of a press conference Monday. This one is located down the road from the entrance to the Big Cat Rescue. https://t.co/sPk3IxirSp #TigerKing @WFLA pic.twitter.com/W8YrO7WlVv— Justin Schecker (@WFLAJustin) August 8, 2020
Lewis was last seen on Aug. 18, 1997, after he left his Tampa home to go on a trip to Costa Rica. He was never found and was legally declared dead in 2002. Baskin, who married Howard Baskin in 2004, now owns Big Cat Rescue, the non-profit animal sanctuary she co-founded with Lewis. As seen in Tiger King, Exotic believes Baskin killed her husband and possibly fed his body to tigers. Baskin denied these claims and has never been charged in connection to Lewis' disappearance.
On Monday, Phillips was joined by three of Lewis' daughters, who thanked the public for the increased interest in the case since Tiger King aired on Netflix. "Amazingly, our little family tragedy has become your tragedy. Our search for closure and truth has become your mission also," his youngest daughter, Gale Rathbone, said, reports the Associated Press. "We all know by now that (Lewis) was not a perfect man. But do only the perfect among us deserve justice?"
Baskin did not comment on the case. She told the AP in an email it has been her "policy not to discuss pending litigation until it's been resolved." Baskin added, "I had told some news outlets that I thought the press conference on Aug. 10 was just a publicity stunt, but at that time was not aware there would be pending litigation."
Baskin and Exotic's rivalry began when she began efforts to shut down his Oklahoma zoo, accusing him of abusing animals and selling tiger cubs. Exotic accused Baskin of having something to do with Lewis' disappearance and filmed several videos threatening to kill her. In 2019, he was convicted on two counts of hiring a hitman to kill Baskin, as well as charges related to violations of the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act. Baskin also sued Exotic over trademark and copyright infringement, winning a $1 million lawsuit against him. The judge in the case recently transferred ownership of Exotic's Oklahoma zoo to Baskin, although Exotic sold the zoo to Jeff Lowe in 2016.