Make us your home page

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo and former president Lex Salisbury negotiate a financial settlement

TAMPA — The Lowry Park Zoo and its former president Lex Salisbury officially cut ties Friday, resolving the outstanding financial claims laid out in a city of Tampa audit that concluded Salisbury used zoo animals, materials and employees for his personal enrichment.

In the December audit, Salisbury's tab exceeded $200,000. But after this final agreement, Salisbury will have to pay only $2,212.

Why the steep difference?

Salisbury had his own claims, too.

In December, after the St. Petersburg Times investigated transfers of assets Salisbury made between the zoo, his yet-to-open Polk County animal park called Safari Wild and his ranch residence in Pasco County, the city of Tampa added up the private deals in a 60-page audit.

Salisbury had engaged in transactions involving more than 200 animals with the zoo, buying, loaning, trading and getting some as outright gifts.

The zoo had paid to construct fences, a horse barn, a primate barn and shade structures on Safari Wild property. Also, Salisbury had given himself a bonus and charged the zoo for a three-day layover in Paris after a business trip.

"Fundamentally," auditors wrote, "Mr. Salisbury appeared to treat the operation at Lowry Park Zoo, his for-profit venture Safari Wild and his residence ranch as one."

Salisbury resigned later that month, but through his attorney continued to refute the allegations that he used the zoo for his personal benefit. He maintained that he was helping the zoo all along, offering his land for boarding free of charge. Now, it was his turn to tally.

Salisbury is expected to release a statement Monday, through his attorney Robert McKee.

His attorney presented the zoo with a $48,644 tab for boarding the zoo animals he had at his Pasco ranch and Safari Wild.

Such points of contention could have led to expensive litigation, said zoo board member Bob Rasmussen.

"After evaluating the amounts in controversy, the relative legal merit of the claims, the disruptive effect on the Zoological Society and the cost of litigation — which could easily exceed $200,000 — we believed it was not in the best interest of the Zoological Society to litigate," he said.

The two sides compared tallies. The zoo said Salisbury owed:

• $2,556 in boarding.

• $627 for sales tax paid by the zoo on feed sales to Safari Wild.

• $5,772 as additional consideration for the 1963 Mercedes Unimog motor vehicle Safari Wild acquired from the zoo in exchange for a used mower.

• $6,942 for the additional bonus paid to Salisbury in 2008.

• $1,359 for the cost of his wife accompanying him on a 2007 international business trip, and

• $3,800 for the three-day Paris layover in 2008.

The largest numbers cited in the city's audit involved the structures the zoo built on Safari Wild. Salisbury is mandated to pay a contractor's charges of $29,800 to disassemble the structures the zoo built at Safari Wild by the end of the year.

That brings the zoo's total claims against him to $50,856.

Subtract from that the $48,644 boarding costs Salisbury said he is owed — a cost zoo officials still dispute — and Salisbury's total debt to the zoo will be $2,212.

That, and he'll have to give back a baby pygmy hippo.

"This is it," Rasmussen said of the most embarrassing chapter in zoo history. "This was the last paragraph."

But some final items in the agreement indicate the zoo may not be completely done with Salisbury.

If Salisbury is subpoenaed by a governmental authority to give testimony about the zoo, he must give prompt written notice to the zoo. He must also "fully and truthfully" cooperate with the zoo and its attorneys with respect to any governmental or legal claim about his conduct while employed at the zoo.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has not concluded its investigation.

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at or (813) 226-3354.

Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo and former president Lex Salisbury negotiate a financial settlement 08/21/09 [Last modified: Saturday, August 22, 2009 12:14am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. PolitiFact Florida: How would Florida fare in Graham-Cassidy health care bill?


    Following a sharp rebuke by late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel, Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., hit the airwaves to defend his bill that would undo much of the Affordable Care Act.

    Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La.
  2. What ever happened to the Zika epidemic?


    Remember Zika?

    The last time Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians about the potential threat of the mosquito-borne virus was in July, when he urged residents to still be vigilant against bug bites and standing water. At the time, doctors and researchers were bracing for what was supposed to be another active summer …

    Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, responsible for transmitting Zika, sit in a petri dish at the Fiocruz Institute in Recife, Brazil. Cases of the virus are down dramatically this year in Florida, the result of awareness efforts, experts say. But the public, they add, should not let its guard down. [Associated Press]
  3. Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– The grand jury that said Pinellas County should not take over the troubled construction licensing board also said the county should bail out the agency before it goes broke in 2018.

    Pinellas County Commission chair Janet Long isn't keen on the idea of the county loaning money to keep the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board afloat. The county has no say over the independent agency, which could run out of funding in 2018. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. Is the Bundt cake back? How retro baked goods are becoming trendy again


    Once there were grunts and slumps, buckles and brown betties. Oh, and pandowdies and sonkers. In the olden days, people routinely made angel food cakes, tomato soup cakes and hummingbird cakes. These were not Duncan Hines mixes, but rather confections made from scratch following yellowed and stained recipes in your …

    Nothing Bundt Cakes in Tampa offers a variety of options, from tiny “bundtinis” and 10-inch cakes that serve 18 to 20 people. Core flavors include lemon, marble, red velvet and chocolate-chocolate chip, with featured flavors like confetti.
  5. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]