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Carole Baskin of 'Tiger King' fame sued for defamation

On the Netflix series Photo: AP/ Loren Elliott, Tampa Bay Times. On the Netflix series "Tiger King", Baskin, who owns a big cat refuge, sought to shut down Joseph Maldonado-Passage's for-profit breeding of big cats. His nickname is "Joe Exotic" and her signature line is "cool cats and kittens."

Associated Press
Created: September 24, 2020 08:32 AM

Carole Baskin, who became a pop culture sensation due to Netflix's docuseries "Tiger King," is being sued for defamation by a former assistant. As part of the lawsuit, the daughters of Baskin's former husband are seeking more information about what happened to their father, who disappeared mysteriously more than two decades ago.

The amended complaint to an earlier lawsuit was filed Tuesday in state court in Tampa by Don Lewis' three daughters, Donna Pettis, Lynda Sanchez, and Gale Rathbone, as well as his former assistant, Anne McQueen. It also names Baskin's current husband and her tiger rescue sanctuary as defendants.

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The lawsuit said that Baskin defamed McQueen by posting a video diary entry on YouTube earlier this month in which she says McQueen played a role in Lewis' disappearance. Those statements and embezzlement allegations also were made on Baskin's website, "bigcatrescue.org," the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also is seeking what is known as a "pure bill of discovery," which allows information in a case to be gathered before a civil complaint is filed.


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"Despite contentions to the contrary, the truth has never been explored in any court and there is a good faith basis to believe the truth will open up many viable remedies," the lawsuit said.

The pure bill of discovery "will be useful to identify potential defendants and theories of liability and to obtain information necessary for meeting a condition precedent to filing suit," the lawsuit said.

Lewis's disappearance remains an open case. In March, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister announced that his office was seeking new leads following the popularity of Netflix's "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness."

The documentary is about Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," a former Oklahoma zookeeper. 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 Lewis' disappearance. The documentary extensively covered Maldonado-Passage's repeated accusations that Baskin killed her husband and possibly fed him to her tigers. Baskin, who founded Big Cat Rescue, has never been charged with any crime and released a statement refuting the accusations made in the series.

Baskin, who is a contestant on the show, "Dancing With The Stars" this season, said nothing when judges of the TV dance competition made references in jest to the belief that Lewis was killed and fed to the tigers at her sanctuary, the lawsuit said.

Lawyers for Baskin said Wednesday they couldn't comment on pending litigation. In an email to The Associated Press late Wednesday, Baskin said she never would joke about the loss of her husband.

"I didn't kill him or have him killed, so there's no way I'd associate losing him with that word or concept," Baskin said. "Any Tiger King reference to killing or murder is strictly based on the fact that so many animal abusers have tried unsuccessfully to kill me either by rallying their minions or hiring hit men."


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