Monthly Archives: March 2020

The Case of Carole Baskin’s Missing Husband is Still Open

  • Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister is still looking for tips for Carole Baskin’s missing husband Jack “Don” Lewis.
  • Sheriff Chronister held a press conference today, sharing some new details about the investigation.
  • Lewis’ disappearance was featured extensively in an episode of Tiger King, which suggested Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin was a prime suspect.

Joe Exotic

By now, almost everyone has experienced the number one quarantine distraction that is the Netflix documentary series ‘Tiger King’. We covered the arrest of “Joe Exotic’ (Joseph Passage-Maldanado) on Crimcourts back when he was arrested, but the documentary takes a 7-episode deep-dive into he and several other big cat zoos. One of the outstanding mysteries from the show is the disappearance of the first husband of one of those zoo owners, Carole Baskin, the founder and owner of Tampa’s Big Cat Rescue.

The disappearance of her husband, millionaire Jack ‘Don’ Lewis in 1997 has never been solved, and now the Hillsborough County Sheriff is using the renewed interest from ‘Tiger King’ to solicit the public for more information from this still-unsolved case. Sheriff Chronister held a press conference today, and revealed some details of interest to watchers of the Tiger King series. The Sheriff indicated that Ms. Baskin is not being as cooperative as she may have been in the past. HCSO asked her to take a polygraph test, and she declined, citing the advice of her attorney. The sheriff also mentioned the meat grinder that had been on the property, and which was referenced in Tiger King. The sheriff says the meat grinder was removed from the property mere days before it was searched, so it was never able to be tested. It’s also worth noting that the septic tank, which was one of Joe exotic’s favorite theories, was installed well after Mr. Lewis’ disappearance, and is not considered relevant to the case. Baskin disputes allegations she was involved in her husband’s disappearance.

For those who haven’t seen the series, Carole Baskin met Don Lewis walking down the street in Tampa one night, and later married him. Lewis was a millionaire who left his previous wife to be with the much younger Baskin. Lewis apparently had one or more mistresses while married to Baskin, and made frequent trips to Costa Rica. Shortly before his disappearance, he had indicated an intention to a friend that he planned to leave Ms. Baskin. However, he was last seen on 8/18/1997, with no explanation, and his vehicle found abandoned at a small airfield. Not long after, Ms. Baskin revealed a trust that provided for her to control his multi-million dollar fortune in case of his death or, suspiciously spelled out, his disappearance. He was declared dead as soon as the 5-year period ran, and Ms. Baskin inherited the vast majority of his fortune.

There are more details in the series, which I finally watched and insist you do the same. But the new revelations, such as the missing meat grinder, will only add to the suspicion¬† engendered by the documentary. Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22-years in federal prison for soliciting Baskin’s murder, along with charges for selling and killing tigers. I leave you with the country ballad video produced by Joe Exotic, which uses a Carole Baskin look-alike to suggest she killed Don Lewis and fed him to her cats.

Warrant Issued for Church Pastor that Held Services in Violation of Stay-at-Home Order

A mega-church in Tampa defied a “safer-at-home” order in effect in Hillsborough County, Florida, and held a crowded service Sunday morning. Today, the pastor is facing charges for holding the service in violation of the order. The Sheriff and State Attorney held a press conference this afternoon to announce the charges, saying they had reached out to the church a couple of times, and the church refused to cancel the service. Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne will reportedly turn himself in on charges of unlawful assembly and violation of a public health emergency order.

Rodney Howard-Browne via Facebook

The church, and pastor Howard-Browne, will argue that the stay-at-home order violated their first amendment rights, but the equation is not that simple. The order was content neutral, meaning it did not target religious services, but all gatherings. For instance, a city cannot bad one party from putting up signs before an election, but they can ban all signs more than a month before the election: the state has more leeway on such content neutral rules. Usually, those are applied to free speech element of the First Amendment, but these rules also differ in that they deal with the free exercise of religion and the right of peaceable assembly. There’s not much precedent to use, as the last time we had such a public health emergency in this country was 100 years ago during the Spanish Flu epidemic. I think the State will be more interested in stopping the services going forward than they will be in prosecuting a pastor, but the legal question will be interesting to watch.

This twitter post links footage from the service Sunday:

UPDATE: The pastor did turn himself in on the charges. Seems like under the rodney howard-browne mugcircumstance, it would have made more sense to give him a notice to appear. That is, if you’re so worried about social distancing, there is an alternative to processing him through a jail with hundreds of inmates. But, they had a point to make, and wanted to give him a mug shot.

So, I probably ought to watch the ‘Tiger King’ Series on Netflix

Joe Exotic

All the media buzz right now is about ‘Tiger King’, a true-crime documentary series about a man named Joe Exotic who was convicted of hiring a hit-man to try to kill the rival owner of another big cat sanctuary, Carole Baskin. It even has a Florida connection, as Basin runs Tampa-area Big Cat Rescue! Baskin also disputes a lot of what is covered in the show. I did cover the story when he was first indicted. I need to hurry up and watch this series (I’ve still been working my way through the new season of ‘You’). I gotta have the reference point for all of these memes!

South Carolina Man Arrested for Faking Corona Virus

  • He faked a doctor’s note saying he had corona virus.
  • It forced the Business where he worked to close for 5 days.

Jeffrey Long

A 31-year old man in Inman, South Carolina apparently decided he wanted a few days off of work, and allegedly forged a doctor’s excuse claiming he had the coronavirus. The employer did the responsible thing, not just letting him off, but shutting down their entire facility, a call center, for several days while they brought in professionals to sanitize the building.

fake corona note

While he was off work, the man also decided to visit his children at school, causing educators to worry that other children had been exposed. Fortunately, the whole thing was a scam, and nobody was exposed to danger. The man, Jeffrey Travis, is now facing charges for forgery and breach of peace. This is the second South Carolina resident arrested for falsely making claims about the the virus. Robert Cullum was also charged with breach of peace for telling his employer that he was at risk because his son had the virus. However bad you might want a vacation, it’s not worth going to jail!

Florida Courts are still Open, and so is the Law Office of Spencer Cordell

  • You can still reach the Law Office of Spencer Cordell.
  • Our phone number is 239-333-4686.
  • Our email is spencercordell@hotmail.com .

The wheels of justice must continue to turn, in particular for those accused of crimes during the public health emergency. Florida courthouses, including those in Southwest Florida, are open on a limited basis for essential hearings. Among those hearings still happening are arraignments, injunctions, and first appearances for those who have been arrested. Attorney Spencer Cordell is available to consult by phone, answer emails, and even video chat if that is necessary.

Please stay safe during this health emergency. The novel corona virus has impacted all of our daily lives, and we must take steps to protect others who may be vulnerable to COVID-19, but we can stil make accommodations to help. If you or your loved one are facing criminal charges, even if there is not an essential hearing coming up, we are still available to discuss your options, and the consultation is still free. Don’t hesitate to call you have been arrested, injured in an accident or want to know your legal rights.

Attorney Spencer Cordell, 239-333-4686

Man Arrested for Claiming to Have the COVID-19 Corona Virus

David Landeau

It should go without saying that you should not pretend to have a potentially deadly disease, and it’s even more appalling that somebody would do so in the midst of a public health emergency. But leave it to by claiming to have the corona virus. The bus was evacuated, and when police were called, Landeau admitted that he doesn’t have the COVID-19, the diseased caused by the corona virus. He has been charged with disorderly conduct and creating a false public alarm. Fortunately, it did appear to be a false alarm.

Don’t be David Landeau. Everybody is stressed out with the virus going around, so let’s focus on helping our fellow man for a while, not adding to the stress.

Florida Courts Going to Limited Use

The Florida Supreme Court just issued an order limiting use of courthouses, most notably the suspension of all trials, including jury trials. This order extends from this afternoon to March 27.

Click to access AOSC20-13.pdf

Drug House Put Out “Come Back with a Warrant” Mat… So the Cops Did

Neighbors near a suspected drug house in San Carlos made several calls to the Sheriff’s Department about the concerning activity going on at the house. LCSO responded to investigate, and were greeted with a mat in front of the door that said “Come Back with a Warrant!

The Mat

The Mat

Deputies did just that, securing a warrant and coming back to search the home. Inside, they found quantities of Meth, Fentanyl, Heroin, Cocaine and various related paraphernalia. Three people were arrested, included the alleged ringleader who was charged with sale, possession, and possession of a place being used for selling drugs.

I’m really charmed by the handwritten mat. They actually sell mats like that– theoretically as novelty items. These guys didn’t pay for one… but they were serious about having a need for one. They should have also posted a sign that says “I’m not saying anything without speaking to my lawyer” to invoke some other important rights!

The FMPD Officer Investigation Continues to Evolve with new Details

fmpd

Fort Myers Police Department

WINK has done some follow-up reporting about the continuing situation with FMPD officers that were suspended after the Freeh Group audit after new details were divulged a few weeks ago. First, WINK has reported that the four officers were subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury related to the investigation. None of the officers appeared, which is not surprising as any of their attorneys would have declined to allow them to testify under those circumstances. WINK spoke to Captain Perry’s attorney who said as much, and said that he could not let his client testify when he wasn’t sure any details of the investigation. It was mentioned that the officers received letters, which sounds like they may have been target letters: suggesting they were personally being investigated.

Second, that WINK article included an interview with former acting Chief Eads, who ran the department when the investigation got underway. Eads states that during his time in charge that he did not have any facts presented to him that were actionable. Ultimately, the four officers were suspended when the new chief received the Freeh Group report, and the redacted pages that still have not become public knowledge.

These reports, and those we discussed here before, suggest that the investigation of the officers is intertwined with the federal charges against accused drug trafficker Robert Ward, and to federal informants that were murdered. Ward is accused of murder for his involvement in the death of Kristopher Smith, and the murder of Victor Johnson appears to be related, as well. Detective Matt Sellers, the retired FMPD homicide detective, handled the investigation into the murder of Kristopher Smith. He went on WINK and stated that not only does he believe that the officers were not involved with that murder, but that he has also presented evidence that exonerates them to investigators. That means the Chief at the time, and the lead investigator, are both on record saying that they are unaware of any wrongdoing or connection between these officers and the Smith murder.

The city, the FBI, and other law enforcement agencies do not have to release information related to ongoing investigations. It may be years before the public finds out what was really going on at FMPD. The upcoming trial of Robert Ward, who is headed to federal court in Orlando may shed some light on why FMPD suspended the officers. Three of the officers have retired, but one remains on paid leave… three years after the suspensions were handed down. The leave for the officers has totaled over $200,000 and counting, and stands as an expensive unanswered question that even city leaders may be in the dark.

In other FMPD news, more details from the discovery in the case of former Captain Jay Rodriguez have been released. Also, it appears the state is considering additional charges for making a false report (no additional charges have been filed, it’s still in an investigation phase.) Rodriguez filed a report prior to release of the prostitution video that local activist Anthony Thomas tried to extort him for money or he would release the video. Thomas denies the extortion claim, which is now the basis for the false report allegation. Thomas later published the video on Facebook. The alleged extortion attempt supposedly took place when Thomas confronted Rodriguez outside a city council meeting, but there do not appear to be any witnesses. This type of charge is difficult to prove, because it is entirely he said/she said.

Finally, several FMPD officers are under investigation for an altercation that occurred off-duty at a Cape Coral bar the Dixie Roadhouse. Three officers have been placed on administrative leave pending the ongoing investigation. Apparently, the alleged victim was struck in the head with a beer bottle, and the incident was captured on video, which may become public down the road.