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Big Cat Rescue: Alleged Criminal History of Carole Lewis Baskin

The Criminal History of Carole Lewis Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Tampa Florida
Sources: People Magazine, Power of Attorney, Don Lewis case #97-069-358  Hillsborough County Sheriff's Dept., Two Orders of Protection

Carole Lewis Baskin, CEO of Tampa Florida's Big Cat Rescue, is proud of her organization's integrity. In fact, her website states that "Big Cat Rescue holds a high level of integrity in the public eye." Let's examine a few examples of Baskin own personal integrity.

It has long been known that Baskin bought, bred, traded and sold exotic cats for many years while asking for donations for her "much needed sanctuary". Sanctuaries do not buy, sell, trade and breed cats. After being exposed, Baskin now publicly admits that she was once a breeder, although the extent of her  breeding and exploitation of these cats has never been fully exposed until now. Although Baskin hasn't bred cats in 13 years (2001), it has been proven that she still represents her personal pets and breeders as being abandoned or rescued from abusive private owners..."the pet trade". This is deceit. This is fraud.

Although Baskin insists she began as a rescue for abused cats in 1992, the truth is that she filed articles of incorporation as Wildlife on Easy Street in 1995 citing "acquisition, shelter, feeding, breeding, and socialization (pets) of exotic and non-exotic animals" as her purpose and listing her then 14 year old daughter as a director under the last name of Lewis, while the child's legal name was and is Murdock. Again, deceit.

But Baskin's deceit, fraud, and criminal behavior would seem to go much deeper than the lies she tells about her private collection of exotic cats housed at her highly advertised tourist attraction she calls a big cat sanctuary.

In November of 2005, People Magazine's special issue "True Crime Stories" featured a story on the disappearance of Baskin's second husband Jack Donald "Don" Lewis on August 18th, 1997. Baskin (then the married Mrs. Murdock) carried on an affair with the married father of four for almost 10 years before his wife of 34 years finally divorced him. Don married Carole Stairs Murdock Lewis (Baskin) a year later.

A picture accompanying the article shows Baskin holding a spotted leopard with a caption that reads, "Don Lewis disappeared, Does this cat look fat"? The story tells how Baskin went to battle with Don's children from his first wife over his five million dollar estate. On her website, Baskin refers to millionaire husband Don Lewis, 24 years her senior, as her "late" husband, even though according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department (case #97-069-358) Don Lewis is still officially a "missing person." Does Baskin know something the police do not?

Don sought an Order of Protection from Baskin shortly before he disappeared, stating that Baskin threatened to kill him and hid his gun. Don's body has never been found, but Baskin, still a leading suspect, had him declared dead and married her third husband, Howard Baskin. Carole Baskin is the only person connected to the case of the missing Don Lewis who has steadfastly refused to take a lie detector test. 

There were a total of five other domestic relations incidents involving Carole Stairs Murdock Lewis Baskin; two involving first husband Mike Murdock as well as a second Order of Protection filed for by Jay Baykal, a man she lived with after second husband Don Lewis went missing. View the six incidents here.

Acting on a tip, on January 19, 2006, cold case detective Chris Fox of the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Department paid a visit to Susan Aronoff, a former staff member of Wildlife On Easy Street (now Big Cat Rescue). Hers was one of two names appearing on Don's supposed will and power of attorney as a witness to Don's signature. During the interview Susan admitted to Detective Fox that she did not witness Don sign the will or the power of attorney, and that she suspected her name had been forged by Baskin on these documents, which both appeared only after Don disappeared.

In an email to a third party Susan writes:

"When he disappeared and his kids were contesting the will I got a phone call from Carole to to go to court. Carole had me backed against a wall at the time and out of fear of her I signed a statement swearing it to be my signature even though it wasn't."

Fortunately for Baskin, the statute of limitations has run out for charges of perjury and forgery and Baskin can never be prosecuted for these crimes.

The power of attorney was prepared not by an attorney, but by Baskin herself and filed with the court only after Don went missing. The wording of this document is unique in that it states, "This durable power of attorney shall not be affected by any disability or disappearance of the principle (Don)". We have never seen a POA worded in such a way. Did Baskin have a premonition that her husband was going to "disappear" and leave his millions to her?

The POA gave Baskin sole power over Don's "estate, property, and affairs" and was notarized by the same friend of Baskin's who notarized the allegedly forged will. Of this notary Susan writes, "(she) was the notary on everything they did because she didn't have the intellect to look at anything or even question what she was signing." Susan also stated that she and others at Easy Street were often asked to sign or witness documents for Baskin that they did not take time to read or which were simply blank pages.

Carole had Don declared dead and his body has never been found, but Don Lewis is not the only grown man who feared for his life while living with Carole Lewis Baskin. Jay Baykal, who Carole lived with while husband Don Lewis was still missing also accused her of domestic violence. View the order of protection filed for by live-in lover Jay Baykal against Carole Lewis Baskin here.

The Better Business Bureau looked at Baskin's use of their name for six months before stripping Baskin of the right to use their seal due to her unethical and inappropriate responses to over 30 complaints filed against her. She has also refused to allow the BBB to evaluate her charity for transparency.

Baskin was also dismissed from the Hillsborough County Animal Advisory Board after Commisioner Brian Blair was shown proof of her lies, deceit, and fraud. The Tampa Bay Women's Journal dismissed her as a finalist for an award the same year.

As recently as August 18, 2011, Baskin's integrity again came in to question when a complaint was filed with The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Dept (Report # 11413838). Baskin and her mother Mary Stairs had been notarizing each other's signatures on legal documents having to do with their real estate dealings. These documents were witnessed by other family members, namely Baskin's father Vernon Stairs, daughter Jamie Murdock, and husband Howard Baskin. In some of these documents the witness signatures were obviously forged.

Notarizing legal documents for members of your family is termed prohibited use of your notary and can result in suspension. Baskin's notary status was put on hold (suspended) and she was notified and given 20 days to respond.  Baskin made the usual excuses and explanations, blaming this on something her mother had been told, pointing out that no one had complained before,  and trying to divert attention from the complaint against her by going into a tirade against the person filing the complaint, complete with color photos and links to the complainant's supposed wrong doings. Typical Baskin. Again she believed that she was above the law and that rules do not apply to her. 

What does Baskin's past have to do with the cats and Big Cat Rescue you might ask? A person's character has everything to do with whether or not a person is honest and truthful in their everyday life, as well as in their business practices. Carole Lewis Baskin may "speak to a high level of integrity", but her character screams deceit.

Many are now questioning Carole Lewis Baskin's lies, deception, fraud, and criminal history. You can help by forwarding this information to media sources everywhere and by calling the Hillsborough County, Florida Sheriff's Department and asking them to reopen the case of Jack Donald Lewis, case # 97-069-358. Don's four children have a right to know what happened to their father.

Note: There is a $20,000 reward being offered for information leading to the recovery of the body of Don Lewis. Contact us here in the comment section. You can remain anonymous.

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