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Will of Carole Baskin's Missing Husband Was '100 Percent a Forgery,' Says County Sheriff

People logo People 6/3/2020 Ashley Boucher
Carole Baskin standing in front of a leopard: Don Lewis, Carole Baskin © Carole Lewis/Tampa Bay Times/ZUMA Don Lewis, Carole Baskin

A county sheriff in Florida is declaring that the will of Don Lewis — Carole Baskin's long-missing husband — was forged.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said Tuesday that two different experts have deemed Lewis' will "100 percent a forgery," Tampa Bay CBS station WTSP reported Tuesday.

"We knew that before," Chronister said. "Because the girl who came forward and said 'Hey, I was forced to witness and say that I witnessed this signature.' The problem was the statute of limitations had already expired. The will had already been executed at that point."

Chronister added that the "only reason" legal action hasn't been taken is because of the statute of limitations' expiration.

"There's no recourse," the sheriff explained. "A judge deemed it valid, so the civil side of it would be execution of the will, the disbursements of the funds is one thing. But then you have the criminal side of it, it's unable to be prosecuted because of the statute of limitations."

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The sheriff added that the will being deemed a forgery "certainly cast another shadow of suspicion" on Lewis' disappearance.

"Investigators have some great leads, they're working through them. I hope something pans out," Chronister added.

A rep for Baskin did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.

Fans of the Netflix docuseries Tiger King will recall that Baskin's previous husband mysteriously went missing in 1997 and was declared dead five years later. Some viewers believe that Baskin was responsible for Lewis' disappearance, but the Big Cat Rescue founder has denied she had anything to do with it.

"Don was not easy to live with and like most couples, we had our moments," Baskin said in a statement on the BCR website after Tiger King was released earlier this year. "But I never threatened him and I certainly had nothing to do with his disappearance. When he disappeared, I did everything I could to assist the police. I encouraged them to check out the rumors from Costa Rica, and separately I hired a private investigator."

Chronister's comments come one day after Baskin was granted control of the Oklahoma zoo property formerly operated by Joseph Maldonado-Passage, widely known as "Joe Exotic."

Maldonado-Passage was convicted last year of paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Baskin in addition to being found guilty on multiple charges of violating both the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and the Endangered Species Act. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison and is currently being held in a Dallas-Fort Worth medical center after he was exposed to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

A judge found the 16-acre property to have previously been fraudulently transferred to Maldonado-Passage's mother years ago, Fox 25 reported Monday.

Carole Baskin sitting on a bench: Carole Baskin/Facebook Carole Baskin © Provided by People Carole Baskin/Facebook Carole Baskin

The G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park has been operated by Maldonado-Passage's former business partner, Jeff Lowe, who now has 120 days to vacate the property, including removing all of the animals currently living there.

"If the need arises to make other plans to place the animals in new homes, Big Cat Rescue and the animal welfare organizations that have previously successfully placed big cats from large facilities in new homes stand ready to assist," Baskin previously said in a statement to PEOPLE.

But in a statement of his own, Lowe said that he doesn't need Baskin's help.

a cat sitting on top of a dirt field: Jeff Lowe © Provided by People Jeff Lowe

"Although I am not personally named in the lawsuit, it appears that Carole Baskin and her desire to exact revenge against Joe Exotic trumps the livelihood of the families that came together to save her life," Lowe said.

"Without our efforts, it is well known that Carole would no longer be here. We anticipated Carole Baskin gaining title to the former park that once belonged to Joe Exotic many years ago. It is my understanding that she will also be taking the cages from the zoo, which thankfully means that the animals that she has will finally have the proper amount of space to move around."

Lowe said that the animals will be re-homed at the new Tiger King Park, which is set to open in Thackerville, Oklahoma, in September.

Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness is now available to stream on Netflix.

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