Wildlife in Need, Tim Stark must pay PETA prosecution fees

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A federal judge on Monday ordered Wildlife in Need owner Tim Stark to pay People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals about $ 750,000 following the group’s successful lawsuit against the southern roadside zoo. Indiana.

U.S. District Judge Richard L. Young says Stark and his ex-wife Melisa Lane, who helped run the exotic Charlestown pet store, must pay PETA $ 733,997.70 to cover attorney fees and expenses related to the successful trial of the animal rights organization. against the owner of Wildlife in Need.

While PETA already owed more than $ 19,000 in unpaid fees to Stark and Wildlife in Need, the group said in a press release Tuesday that it would seek to recover more than $ 750,000 in legal fees and expenses.

“For years, Tim Stark cruelly snatched big cats from their mothers, removed their claws, and used them as photo props to make money, but now the long arm of the law has caught up with him,” PETA Foundation director of litigation Asher Smith said in a statement. “PETA is eager to collect its due and warns other shady roadside zoos that they may be next.”

PETA, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, sued Wildlife in Need, Stark and Lane in 2017 for alleged violations of federal endangered species law.

Specifically, the lawsuit claimed that Wildlife in Need had taken “tigers, lions and hybrids” and “had injured, injured and / or harassed at least twenty-two cats by declawing”.

Fifty-three cats were also injured by being separated from their mother too early, according to court documents.

Roberts, the federal judge in the New Albany Division of the Southern District of Indiana, gave PETA a victory last August, ordering Stark to no longer declaw big cats, expose baby cats to the public, or to prematurely separate babies from their mothers.

PETA had requested more than $ 800,000 in total expenses and attorney fees in the lawsuit, but Roberts approved the lower amount on Monday after noting that several billing entries were repetitive or had other issues.

Previously:Indiana judge permanently bans Wildlife in Need founder Tim Stark from owning animals

As part of PETA’s successful trial, 25 big cats were transferred from Stark and his former business partner Jeff Lowe – both of whom were featured in the Netflix hit “Tiger King” – to accredited sanctuaries.

PETA noted that the US Department of Justice also cited its victory over Wildlife in Need in its ongoing litigation against Lowe and his Oklahoma Wildlife Park.

The PETA lawsuit and the resulting expenses were hardly the only legal headache in recent years for Stark, who founded Wildlife in Need in 1999 at his Charlestown home near Jack Teeple Road in Charlestown.

In 2020, the US Department of Agriculture revoked the centre’s Animal Welfare Act license and ordered it to pay $ 340,000 in fines, including $ 40,000 for which Stark was put on the hook after losing a call. of this federal decision.

Wildlife in Need’s lucrative “Tiger Baby Playtime” has helped it increase its animal numbers from around 43 in 2016 to 293 creatures as of late, according to court documents.

The then Indiana Attorney General’s Office Curtis Hill also sued Stark and his Charlestown attraction in February 2020, alleging animal abuse and neglect and seeking to have all animals removed from the property. in sanctuaries.

Last April, a Marion County judge ruled in favor of the attorney general’s office and permanently banned Stark from acquiring, exhibiting, and possessing exotic and native animals, also ordering Stark to return the funds qu ‘he had diverted from his business for his personal use.

As a result of this decision, a corporate receiver was appointed to manage the assets of Wildlife in Need, and the Indianapolis Zoo was given the green light to continue caring for any animals that were taken from it. last year at the Stark facility.

Stark intended to transfer all assets from Wildlife in Need to the new Oklahoma company with Lowe, of “Tiger King” fame, taking equipment and animals from southern Indiana to the State earlier, according to court records.

But Stark never consulted or informed the Wildlife in Need board of directors of Oklahoma’s plans, and 15 to 20 animals died during one of Stark’s voyages, according to court documents.

While in Oklahoma, Stark also used money from Wildlife in Need’s bank account for personal expenses, the Marion County judge’s ruling noted.

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In August 2019, Stark returned to Indiana after a planned business venture with Lowe in Oklahoma “failed,” court records show.

But Stark continued to use Wildlife in Need funds from its open bank accounts, even after the company finally dissolved last November, according to court documents.

For more than 20 years, Stark and his volunteers have manipulated hundreds of exotic animals, showing them off for the price of public admission of $ 25 or more.

It was a lucrative, non-profit business – reporting over $ 1 million in revenue in 2017 and over $ 1.2 million in 2016, even though Stark claims he received no income.

Wildlife in Need’s lucrative “Tiger Baby Playtime” has helped it increase its animal numbers from around 43 in 2016 to 293 creatures as of late, according to court documents.

The substantiated allegations revealed by the various court cases include abuse and threats against government officials, poor record keeping, falsified documents and inadequate care for sick and dying animals.

As he suffered setback after setback in court and his animals were taken away by state and federal officials, Stark denied any wrongdoing and claimed he was the victim, stating last year to a Courier Journal reporter that he was “ready to die” to protect his wildlife and his business – “my family” and “my livelihood”.

Following the Marion County decision in April, Stark posted an approximately two-hour Facebook Live video from his home in which he said he “could no longer think mentally correctly” and asked the judge to ‘Indianapolis to participate in “a challenge”.

He also flashed a gun and what appeared to be a syringe attached to his arm during the live video.

The next evening, Stark was taken into custody at his Charlestown home for a “non-criminal incident,” the Clark County Sheriff’s Office said, with Stark apparently going to the emergency room for a psychiatric assessment.

In late September, Stark fled Indiana after felony charges were filed against him over an allegedly physical argument with the state’s deputy attorney general, who was among Wildlife in Need inspectors earlier this week. that year.

Stark was finally arrested in October in Washington County, New York, near the Vermont border.

Local police said they were able to locate him after Stark told another visitor to a bed and breakfast he was staying at about his animals.

The other visitor searched for Stark’s name online and contacted authorities when he learned of the active arrest warrants, police said.

While on the run, Stark also flashed a grenade later determined to be a plastic prop during a live Facebook video, prompting the New York bed and breakfast he was staying in to be evacuated when he was on the run. of his arrest.

The Stark case arising from the alleged battery and intimidation of Deputy Attorney General Phillip Rizzo, as well as another case in which prosecutors are seeking to remove his firearms, is pending before the Clark Circuit Court, according to online records.

A trial in the battery case is currently scheduled for July.

Contact Billy Kobin at bkobin@courierjournal.com.


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