Diving mule man in hot water

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2001:

ST. LOUIS–Tim Rivers, 55, of Citra, Florida, notorious for the “Tim Rivers High Diving Mule Act” performed since 1957 at county fairs around the U.S., is among nine defendants named in federal indictments for allegedly illegally supplying 11 captive-raised tigers and leopards to canned hunts.

Indicted with Rivers for alleged conspiracy and Lacey Act violations were Lazy L Exotics owners Todd Lantz, 39, and Vicki Lantz, 40, of Cape Girardeau, Missouri; Freddy Wilmoth, 44, of Gentry, Arkansas, who is son of Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari owner Ross Wilmoth; and Stoney Elam, 30, owner of the Power House Wildlife Sanctuary in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma.

Named later were three Michigan men who allegedly bought some of the animals’ pelts: George F. Riley, 69, of Farmington Hills; Leonard Kruszewski, 40, of Milford; and William D. Foshee, 43, of Jackson. Issued earlier, the indictments were opened in November 2001. The Lacey Act bars taking, moving, or selling in violation of any U.S. law or treaty.

The nine defendants were indicted in a continuing investigation, said a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service press release. “In January 2001, Woody Thompson Jr.,” owner of the Willow Lake Sportsmen’s Club in Three Rivers, Michigan, “was sentenced to serve six months home detention and two years probation; fined $2,000; and ordered to pay $28,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Save the Tigers Fund,” the Fish and Wildlife Service release said.

The case resulted from a probe by the Fish and Wildlife Service and federal attorneys in Missouri, Illinois, and Michigan, who the release said, “uncovered a group of residents and small business owners who allegedly bought and killed exotic tigers, leopards, snow leopards, lions, mountain lions, cougars, mixed breed cats and black bears with the intention of introducing meat and skins into the animal parts trade.”

Rivers was accused of selling two leopards in 1998. Elam allegedly sold two tigers and three leopards. Todd Lantz was accused of buying four tigers from Freddy Wilmoth in 1998 and taking them to be shot at the 5H Ranch in Cape Girardeau. “Vicki Lantz prepared federal forms falsely stating that the transaction was a donation,” the press release said.

Jim Mason, now head of the Two Mauds Foundation in Mt. Vernon, Missouri, told ANIMAL PEOPLE that he had heard of the activities of Lazy L Exotics and the 5H Ranch “the first time I went to Cape Girardeau to investigate the wildlife traffic,” after editing the Animals’ Agenda magazine, 1981-1986.

Rivers took over the Diving Mule Act from his father, who reportedly founded it. In early years a monkey was often chained to the back of the mule, who was forced to dive into a tank of water from a ramp of varying height. In recent years the monkey was no longer seen.

Rivers fled town to evade cruelty charges against the Diving Mule Act in Babylon, N.Y., 1979 and 1991; Brockton, Mass., 1983; Jackson, Miss., 1988; Birmingham, Ala., 1990; and Lackawanna, N.Y., 2000. The Diving Mule Act was stopped by injunction in 1989 in Huntsville, Ala.; in 1994 in Chicago; and in 2001 in Green County, Tenn. In 1994, Brevard County, Fla., passed an emergency bylaw to bar the act from the county fair. In 1998 the Florida House
Agriculture Committe approved a bill to ban the Diving Mule Act, but the bill did not advance farther. In 1999 Rivers won dismissal of a cruelty case brought by Justice for Animals in North Carolina when the veterinarian who was to testify against him did not appear.

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