Jacksonville-based attorney files lawsuit against ‘Tiger King’s’ Carole Baskin

John Phillips' firm is representing family of Baskin's former husband Don Lewis, who went missing in 1997

The investigation of the disappearance of Don Lewis has been reopened.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – There’s a new chapter for the “Tiger King” saga.

Jacksonville-based attorney John Phillips announced that he is representing the family of Don Lewis, the missing millionaire who was married to Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin. Lewis went missing in 1997 under suspicious circumstances. That dynamic was highlighted in the viral Netflix documentary series, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”

In a press conference from Tampa on Monday morning, Phillips said that his firm filed a pure bill of discovery last Friday against Baskin in hopes of finding out what happened to Lewis.

There is a $100,000 reward being offered in the case. Lewis went missing without a trace in 1997 and Baskin has been a popular target as a person of interest. Phillips touched on rumors of how Lewis is said to have died and said it has caused the family significant emotional distress and it has been amplified since the Tiger King documentary came out.

John Phillips' firm is representing family of Baskin's former husband Don Lewis, who went missing in 1997

Several years later he was legally declared dead. A Don Lewis Facebook group, which has 3,300 members and has provided a trove of information that Phillips said has been very helpful in material on the case.

“Resolving this case is in everyone’s best interest. It’s in Carole Baskin’s best interest. If she cares about Don Lewis, and I want to believe you can’t be married to somebody without caring about them. I’ve seen that happen,” Phillips said.

“I invite her to the table. I invite her to talk and let us know what really happened. More than invite her, we’re going to serve her with a lawsuit. Now, it’s not a lawsuit for damages, it’s a lawsuit for equity. Equity means fairness. It also allows subpoenas and depositions, request for production and interrogatories. Things that a court can decide what happened and what lawsuits or lawsuit, and who should be sued should come.”

Phillips said his firm is launching an independent investigation into Lewis’ disappearance. Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister had already reopened the law enforcement investigation a few weeks after the Tiger King series debuted on Netflix.

Attorney Kaitlyn Statile of Carlson, Meissner, Hart and Hayslett said that her firm would represent anyone coming forward with information on the case pro bono.

Sheriff Chronister said his office was flooded with tips and Chronister now says he believes Lewis was murdered. However, Chronister hasn’t named any suspects.

The Tiger King documentary extensively covers repeated accusations that Carole Baskin, killed her then-husband and possibly fed him to her tigers. Gail Rathbone, one of Lewis’ daughters, said that the family hopes that they will finally get closure.

“For 23 years I’ve gone to bed every night knowing that the only chance of seeing him again is in my dreams. For 23 years I’ve woken every morning to the heartbreak of his strange disappearance,” she said. “But hopefully with all this help that we now have one day soon we and you, too will know the truth and will all finally know happened to my dad.”

The tip line that was created can be reached by dialing 646-450-6530.

About the Authors:

Justin Barney joined News4Jax in February 2019, but he’s been covering sports on the First Coast for more than 20 years.