State: Ex-owner of defunct Charlestown zoo auctioning potentially misappropriated items

The legal battle over a now-defunct roadside zoo in Charlestown is continuing with allegations that the zoo’s embattled owner is attempting to auction possibly misappropriated items.

The state on Tuesday filed an emergency motion for rule to show cause asking the Marion Superior Court to order Timothy Stark to appear and explain why he should not be held in contempt for attempting to auction items that could be recoverable by his former nonprofit and zoo, Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed Inc.

The former Charlestown zoo owner gained notoriety in 2020 after he was featured on Netflix’s hit documentary, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.”

According to the state, Stark is planning to auction real and personal property from the location of the Charlestown zoo on July 17. Stark has hired Heil Auction Services LLC to oversee the auction of “items that appear to have been used in the operation of WIN such as animal enclosures, animal kennels, animal carriers, commercial kitchen equipment, construction materials, tools, trailers, trucks, and all-terrain vehicles,” according to the state’s emergency motion.

The state filed suit against Stark, his zoo and his ex-wife, Melisa Lane, in February 2020, alleging the mission of the nonprofit was undermined by animal abuse and neglect, and by the misappropriation of nonprofit funds.

Marion Superior Senior Judge David Dreyer in April barred Stark from acquiring, exhibiting and owning any exotic and native animals. Previously, WIN’s board had voted to dissolve the nonprofit. 

A corporate receiver was appointed to perform an accounting and determine the amount Stark misappropriated from WIN and, thus, is required to pay back. The auction directly interferes with that process, the state argues.

“Such funds and misappropriated assets are substantial. Indeed, the Court cited to many examples of the misappropriation and commingling of assets, detailing that Stark wrongfully used WIN funds to pay for at least two pieces of heavy equipment to be shipped to Oklahoma in the amount of $11,950.00, wrongfully paid property tax for personal residences in the amount of $2,668.96, and wrongfully paid personal credit cards in the amount of $26,347.33,” according to the state’s motion.

“These examples were not exhaustive of the misappropriation. WIN, in the receivership process, has a right to the return of sums appropriate to satisfy the misappropriation. Funds derived from the sale of Stark’s personal property and real estate may be used to repay the misappropriated amounts,” the state wrote.

The emergency motion asks the court to enjoin the sale of any of Stark’s personal property or fixtures “used in the operation of WIN”; order Heil Auction Services to cancel the July 17 auction or, if the auction goes forward, order that all proceeds be held in escrow; and award attorney fees to the state.

Stark had not filed a response to the state’s emergency motion at IL deadline. He is proceeding pro se, and court records do not list a phone number for him.

The case in Marion Superior Court is State of Indiana v. Wildlife in Need and Wildlife in Deed, Inc., Timothy Stark, Melisa Lane, 49D12-2002-PL-006192. Stark previously filed a notice of appeal in that case on May 4.

Prior to the filing of the state case, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had revoked Stark’s federal exhibitor’s license, and his efforts for reinstatement were unsuccessful. 

He was also involved in a yearslong legal battle with animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which secured a victory after the Indiana Southern District Court found Stark had violated the Endangered Species Act. Stark is on the hook for roughly $734,000 in that case.

Back in state court, Stark pleaded guilty last month in Clark County to a charge of misdemeanor battery related to allegations that he harassed a deputy attorney general involved in a court-ordered inspection of the zoo. He was sentenced to 44 days, with credit for the same.

A so-called red flag law petition is also pending against Stark in Clark Circuit Court. The state in April moved to seize his firearms, and that request is set for a hearing in September.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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