INDIANAPOLIS — Nearly one year to the day after WHAS11 first exposed allegations of neglect and abuse at Wildlife in Need in Southern Indiana, the state of Indiana has presented its final evidence against founder Tim Stark.
The hearing focused on where the exotic animals previously housed at Wildlife in Need will go now that the nonprofit is dissolved. While Stark has maintained the case is a "massive injustice," the Attorney General's office laid out accusations of mismanagement that led to animal neglect.
Wildlife in Need, the AG's office said, had no formal meetings, records or votes on financial decisions. In addition, the state described Stark using donations from the public to pay for personal dinners, gas, hair appointments and utility bills. Stark did not deny the claims of embezzlement, and said, "Wildlife in Need paid for my existence and still does today."
Stark, however, said the claims are not so black-and-white, saying the nonprofit became successful by using his animals, property and equipment. He said he plans to explain misunderstandings and lies that have landed him in five years of lawsuits during Tuesday's hearing.
"My plan is to destroy as many people as I can. I have the proof, I told you, I've been waiting on it," Stark said. "If the judge allows me...I'm going to attack them legally and I'm going to expose what I've been waiting for for five (expletive) years now. I'm going in reverse."
Stark represented himself in court. The case will likely end tomorrow. Then a judge will decide how much money, if any, Stark will have to pay back in addition to the placement of the animals.
A Look Back At the Case
WHAS11 aired the two part investigation into allegations of neglect and abuse at Wildlife in Need in February of 2020, after interview seven former staff members. Their claims were backed by more than 500 pages of state and federal records.
"He's been operating since 1999- this has always been something that's been swept under the rug", former volunteer Jordan Jones told WHAS11 in January of 2020.
The former employees described dirty cages, injured animals that didn't get vet attention and a lack of food and water. The documents highlighted unethical euthanasia, missing or fabricated records and too few staff for too many animals, among other serious allegations. The failed inspection reports dated back nearly ten years.
When WHAS11 took the allegations to Tim Stark, he didn't deny them but blamed his staff.
Stark said, "Kind of funny how they'll sit there and say well look at this it wasn't clean, well look at that it wasn't done. Well- who's freaking job was it? It was theirs."
Then WHAS11 took the allegations the USDA and on the same day the investigation aired, the federal agency revoked Stark's exhibitor's license. Several days later, the Indiana Attorney General filed a lawsuit against him accusing him of embezzling non-profit money and aiming to shut him down for good.
Director and Chief Counsel of the Consumer Protection Division Betsy DeNardi said, "We include allegations that animals were neglected to show that the corporation, the non-profit is not fulfilling its mission."
The next month, March, an inspection at the Charlestown property proved animal experts' fears were validated and several months later the court approved a motion to move all of the animals to other sanctuaries for the remainder of the case...despite major push back from Stark.
"I'm losing my life right now. Everything I've worked for," Stark said, as animals were removed from the property in September.
More than 200 animals were ultimately removed during an operation that involved swat, police, and court officials.
PHOTOS | Wildlife In Need owner Tim Stark gets day in court after Attorney General files lawsuit
But a final count showed not all animals were accounted for. Some were missing from the property. The judge asked Stark to turn them over or face contempt of court but that didn't happen. When deadlines were missed the judge issued a warrant for Stark's arrest and in September Stark fled the state.
"It's been a very unusual road and you're dealing with a character. A character who doesn't believe he needs to subject himself to the authority of the court and has indicated that numerous times", Scott Barnhart with the Attorney General's Office said.
Stark was eventually arrested in New York State in October and extradited back to Indiana. He faced jail time and apologized to the judge for his behavior, blaming bad medication.
Former Wildlife in Need volunteer said, "I think when he got into it he may have had good intentions but he let greed get the better of him and I think that's why we're here today- that's really why we're in Indianapolis and why he's in cuffs and why he's behind bars."
Wildlife in Need is officially dissolved on paper, meaning the non-profit cannot show animals to the public, host events or collect donations. But what happens to the animals? Who do they belong to? Those questions set to be answered in the courtroom starting Monday morning.