Carole Baskin’s missing husband’s will ‘was forged’ due to ‘puzzling disappearance’ clause, claims his lawyer
THE lawyer for Carole Baskin’s missing husband Don Lewis says he knew the millionaire’s will was “forged” due to one strange clause included in the document.
Lewis was 59 years old when he vanished without a trace in August 1997, having allegedly told Baskin he was heading to Costa Rica in his personal plane.
His truck was later found abandoned at a private airfield 40 miles from the big cat sanctuary he ran with his wife at the time on the outskirts of Tampa, Florida.
There were no traces of blood or signs of a struggle inside the van. There was also no record of him taking any flight and all of his banking activity ceased therein.
Lewis was never seen or heard from again. He was declared legally dead in 2002 after a years-long search to find him proved fruitless.
Shortly after Lewis vanished, Baskin produced his will and his power of attorney that gave her complete control of his $5million estate.
Under the power of attorney unearthed by Baskin, she was given full control over her husband’s estate in the event of his “disability or disappearance.”
Lewis’s attorney Joe Fritz, who has long claimed the documents produced by Baskin were forged, said alarm bells immediately started ringing for him when he saw the disappearance clause.
“In my law office, we have lawyers with more than 100 years combined experience, and none of us has ever heard the word ‘disappearance’ used in a document like that,” he told The U.S. Sun.
“Never. Not in one case. It leaves me to believe that a non-lawyer did that.
“Who the f**k thinks they’re going to disappear?”
Fritz believes someone with knowledge of the law added the clause to the document, but he said he doesn’t believe it was drafted by an actual lawyer.
Baskin has previously admitted to authoring the legal documents, claiming she did so because Don wanted to save money on lawyer fees.
In a post published on her website BigCatRescue.org in 2020 – which has since been altered – Baskin originally wrote: “Some people made a fuss about using the word “disappearance,” but Don had told me about people going to Costa Rica and disappearing, and he was dealing with the mob down there, so I thought that seemed like a potential threat and included the word.
“I also included disability because of Don’s increasingly strange behavior,” she continued.
“Our Costa Rican attorney, Roger Petersen, said the Helicopter Brothers were their version of the mob, and Don was loaning them money.”
Fritz has long held the belief that Lewis’ signature on both of the documents was forged.
His suspicions were backed up by two independent handwriting experts, and the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, the lead department investigating Lewis’ disappearance.
Lewis’ ledger appeared to have been directly copied from his marriage certificate, which was signed some five years before his disappearance.
Typically a person’s signature would show some variation, but his signature on both documents proved to be a perfect match, according to Fritz and the two experts, Willa Smith and Thomas Vastrick.
In my law office, we have lawyers with more than 100 years combined experience, and none of us has ever heard the word ‘disappearance’ used in a document like that.
“It’s not a difficult call,” Vastrick told the Clarion Ledger in 2020, adding that the signatures appeared to be “the product of tracing.”
“It was nearly exact replication to the extent that I was very confidently able to opine that what I was dealing with – at least with Mr. Lewis’s signature – that these signatures were traced.”
Smith made a similar determination in 1997 after she was hired by Lewis’ daughters to investigate the matter.
Lewis’s daughter, Donna Pettis, told the Ledger her family opted not to contest the handwriting analysis any further at the time on the advice of their legal counsel.
“Our attorney was afraid that if Carole continued serving as conservator over the entire estate, then we were risking that our trust fund would be depleted by the end of the five-year term,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office confirmed that the department previously investigated the allegations of forgery in 2011.
Investigators passed the case over to the Florida attorney general’s office, but the five-year statute of limitations on forgeries had long expired and the matter was dropped.
Sheriff Chad Chronister said during a press conference in 2020 that the documents were “100% a forgery.”
Another signature that appears on both documents is that of Susan Aronoff, who previously testified she was there for the signing of the will before later admitting that she wasn’t.
According to Sheriff Chronister, Aronoff “came forward and said she felt pressured at the time to say that it was signed by everyone.”
“I’m pretty confident, she says that she felt to prove her allegiance to Carol that she felt pressured into saying that she witnessed those signatures,” he said.
The U.S. Sun has reached out to Baskin for comment. She previously offered a blanket “no comment” when approached with questions about Lewis’ will.
Anne McQueen, Lewis’ longtime executive assistant, said the only will and power of attorney she was aware of was one that was being kept under her desk.
She claimed in the first series of Tiger King that Lewis signed the documents and handed them to her for safekeeping “in case” anything happened to him.
In McQueen’s version of the documents, she is listed as the executor of his will, power of attorney, and life insurance.
Speaking in reference to the documents presented by Baskin, Frtiz said: “They’re forgeries, there’s no doubt about it. But we don’t know who did do it for certain.
“All the witnesses on the document have recanted, saying it didn’t happen.
“If there were a murder investigation, it might be evidence. I don’t know.
“But there’s nothing they can do about it now.”
ALIVE AND WELL?
Baskin made headlines last week when an interview she gave on a British TV show in 2021 resurfaced, during which she claimed that Lewis had been found “alive and well” living in Costa Rica.
Baskin said the discovery was made by Homeland Security and documented in a letter, which she was only made aware of after the airing of Tiger King 2 on Netflix.
The claim has since been walked back by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office – the agency in charge of Lewis’ case – and discredited by Lewis’ family.
Calling “bulls**t” too was Fritz, who said that while he believes a document similar to the one described by Baskin does exist, it doesn’t prove that Don is alive.
“First of all, it’s a goddamn lie that [federal authorities] will say anything to anybody,” he said.
“Number two, nobody I know outside of police work has ever seen that document […] I’ve known that it existed since before Tiger King, and we’ve asked for it but they won’t give it up.
“But that letter’s existence is nothing new, it’s just more bulls**t from Carole.
“I think the document does exist but I think it’s full of s**t. It’s not like they have a picture or a thumbprint of him.
“It’s just an old document from someone that worked for the federal government who thought he’d uncovered something when they hadn’t.”
Just a few months ago, Fritz revealed that Baskin showed up at his office in Tampa, Florida, asking for a hard copy of the letter in question but left empty-handed.
Fritz questioned Baskin’s motivations for wanting to see the letter, adding: “She’s been looking for it presumably because she wants it for a defense if anything is ever charged against her or anybody else.”
Baskin confirmed the visit to Fritz’s office in a statement to The U.S. Sun.
“I never knew the Homeland Security report existed until I saw it in Tiger King 2 in November 2021,” her written statement began.
“Since Joseph Fritz was the person presenting the document in the show, I figured he would probably have a copy of it, so I went to his office to see if I could meet with him, but he never called me back even though I left my business card.”
Baskin said she wanted to see the letter for herself because the date it was written was obscured in the show.
“Homeland Security didn’t even exist until 2002 (after 9/11 I think) and that was 5 years after I last saw Don so I wanted to know how recently he was known to be ‘alive and well,'” she added.
Fritz, meanwhile, said he was first made aware of a potential sighting of Lewis in Costa Rica during a heated phone call with the sheriff’s office’s lead investigator in the initial wake of his vanishing.
“I made a comment about something insulting their handling of the investigation,” Fritz said, “and the detective got on the phone and just basically started chewing me out, and let slip that he was having to deal with some federal report that Don was seen in Costa Rica that he had to overcome.
“That was the first indication I had that they may have found something, but that was years ago and it clearly it turned out to be nothing.”
Don Lewis’ daughters said they too were informed of a potential sighting of Lewis in Costa Rica in late 1997 by Hillsborough County investigators.
In a statement released earlier this week, Lewis’ daughters said the sighting was detailed in a report authored by officials from U.S. Customs, not Homeland Security.
That report prompted Lewis’ eldest daughter Donna and her husband Tim to fly out to Costa Rica immediately in Nov. 1997 in search of her father, but they yielded no trace of him.
His daughters said the Customs report is the same letter shown in Tiger King 2, however, they believe it has been doctored by an unknown party to reference the Department of Homeland Security instead.
“In the past few days, we’ve learned of recent news articles being published claiming that our Dad, Jack Donald Lewis, has been found ‘alive and well,’ in Costa Rica,” the daughters’ written statement began.
“While we would certainly welcome the good news of our dad being found alive, it’s just simply not true. In late 1997, we were notified by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department that a report existed from US Customs stating that our Dad had been seen in Costa Rica.
“This was the same report that was shown in ‘Tiger King 2’ that is now being used to fill a different narrative as to what happened to our father.”
The statement continued: “Our father is still listed as a missing person on the National Missing and Unidentified Persons database.
“The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department is still actively working on our dad’s case, and we are in constant communication with them as they continue to move forward.”
‘HE WAS MURDERED’
For Fritz, there is “no doubt” in his mind that Don Lewis was murdered.
Who would do such and thing and why remains a mystery, he says, but he says he’s “100% certain” that Lewis is dead.
He believes his friend and client was lured to the airfield under the guise of a cut-price deal on a new aircraft, before being killed mid-flight during a test drive.
“I was told by two different sources that he was strangled from the backseat of an airplane and tossed out over the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
“When I told that to the sheriff’s department, they said they had heard that same story. Whether it’s true or not true, no one knows. But it explains why his car was up there at that airport.
“The FAA had revoked his license over a series of accidents, but that didn’t mean he didn’t fly. That just meant he didn’t fly legally. He’d fly close to the ground, like 50 feet, so he wasn’t detected.
“So it made sense to me that they were flying low over the Gulf of Mexico and something happened. The question is, who made that happen? And that I don’t know.”
Fritz believes that at least two people were involved in Lewis’ murder, should his theory prove to be true.
He said he cannot definitively state know who “would’ve had him killed” and why, but he believes there are several possibilities, some of which are far more likely than others.
“Which are most likely I’m not going to tell you,” he laughed.
“Everybody can speculate […] but I’m not going to get into it because it can cause me a large lawsuit.”
While hopeful the mystery surrounding what happened to Don will eventually be cracked, he doesn’t envision that day arriving any time soon.
“The sheriff knows I’m unimpressed with their investigation; I once said I’ve seen Walmart security do a better job of investigating a kid that stole a CD,” he said.
“They probably have enough probable cause right not to make arrests – they do – but they don’t have it beyond a reasonable doubt and until they do they’re not going to do anything.
“Will they get there eventually? I think they will. One day someone somewhere is going to need a get-out-of-jail-free card and they’re going to give up testimony in exchange.
“That’s the only way this one is going to get solved.”
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office officially reopened Don Lewis’ case in April 2020, shortly after the release of Netflix’s, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness, which became a global sensation at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a statement last week, a spokesperson for the department shot down Baskin’s claims that Lewis was found “alive and well.”
“We have not received any communication from our federal partners that confirms the location of missing person Mr. Don Lewis,” read the statement.
“The investigation into Don Lewis’ disappearance remains a priority for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, as do all missing person cases.”
Despite three years having passed since the case was reopened, Fritz said police have still not contacted him.
He accused the department of “not giving a damn” about the case, but voiced confidence that justice will one day be served.
“Hold your breath,” said Fritz, speaking to any potential culprits.
“One day. It’s coming.
https://www.the-sun.com/news/7242733/carole-baskin-don-lewis-will-forged-disappearance-missing/ Carole Baskin’s missing husband’s will ‘was forged’ due to ‘puzzling disappearance’ clause, claims his lawyer