Category Archives: Florida

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!

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.

More Details Emerge in the Fort Myers Police Internal Investigation

This week marked the third year since an FMPD department audit led to the suspension of four Fort Myers Police Officers. Three of them have since retired, but the fourth is still on paid leave, having been paid nearly $200,000 during his time on leave. The city brought in the Freeh Group to conduct the audit, which suggested possible corruption, and led to a restructuring of the FMPD, but no charges have been filed. Several pages of the report were redacted, and still have not been released to the public. Last week, the city manager told Council there is nothing that can be done while the case remains under FBI investigation, and there’s no telling how long that will take.

However, new reporting from WINK suggest the investigation is related to a federal case against an accused drug trafficker Robert Ward, who has also been charged with ordering the murder of an informant, Kristopher Smith. There is no accusation that the officers are implicated in that informant’s death, which occurred in 2013. But there’s another murdered informant, Victor Johnson, named in the redacted pages. Johnson’s murder occurred in 2016, and an internal affairs investigation was launched about leaks in that investigation. One detective claimed Captain Melvin Perry, one of the suspended officers, was responsible because he had be telling his wife details about the case. Perry’s attorney denies any wrongdoing. Apparently, that detective was counseled for spreading rumors about the other officers.

At this time, no officers have been formally implicated in any wrongdoing. The three that retired did so of their own accord, and the fourth remains on the payroll, with no findings of wrongdoing. It is still very unclear what exactly was going on inside the department at the time, or why the officers were suspended. Three years later, the investigation appears to be ongoing, which precludes the release of much of the information that could shed light behind the curtain at FMPD.

Friday Fun: Drug Traffickers Label their drugs as a “Bag of Drugs” – Get Caught

Bag Full of Drugs

Florida Highway Patrol pulled over two Florida men on I-10 in the Panhandle the other day. After finding out one of them had a warrant, he called for backup. The Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Department responded and brought a K-9, who alerted on the vehicle. The search revealed, among other things, two bags conveniently labeled “BAG FULL OF DRUGS”. The bags were full of drugs.

The men were charged with multiple counts of drug trafficking, drug possession and possession of paraphernalia. Notably, officers recovered some 1.36 kilograms of GHB, often called the “Date Rape Drug”. Only in Florida…

Clearly… not the most successful criminals out there. The drug trafficking charges alone carry sentences of up to 30 years in prison, and have associated mandatory minimum sentences. Not only is it not a good idea to carry your contraband in a bag that alerts to it’s illegal content… it’s probably not a good idea to be flying down the highway going nearly 100 mph, as these guys were when they got pulled over.