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Foreclosure notices filed for Ohio property where suicidal owner released exotic animals

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A brown bear is moved from a transport cage to another cage on the Thompson farm shortly after the animal was moved from the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The Columbus Dispatch Enlarge

ZANESVILLE, Ohio— Prosecutors have filed foreclosure notices for the eastern Ohio property where a man released dozens of his tigers, bears and other exotic animals and killed himself, forcing authorities to hunt down the creatures last fall.

The man's widow, Marian Thompson, owes more than $14,000 in back taxes on 70 acres in the Zanesville area, The Zanesville Times Recorder reported.

The court filings this week came days after two surviving leopards, two primates and a bear were returned to the farm. They had been held for months at the Columbus zoo under a state quarantine order that Thompson challenged.

Muskingum County Prosecutor Michael Haddox said his office tries to resolve tax matters before filing foreclosures but hasn't received a response to a letter that was sent to Thompson in November and warned of potential legal action.

"We want to be zealous in our pursuit of those not paying their taxes, but also we want to also be fair," Haddox said. "We understand the economy is bad right now and understand that people are having hardships. But then there are some people who just refuse to pay. That's when we have to take action."

Thompson's attorney told the newspaper Thursday he hadn't seen the foreclosure documents and couldn't comment. He didn't immediately respond to a message seeking comment Friday.

Court records also show several tax liens indicating Thompson owes tens of thousands of dollars. One from June 2010 is for more than $16,000, and another later that year was for more than $39,600, the newspaper said.

It's not clear what would happen to the surviving animals if the taxes went unpaid and officials completed the foreclosure process for the property.

Nothing in Ohio law allows state officials to check on their welfare or require improvements to conditions in which they are kept. The state's agriculture department has said it would be up to local authorities to be alert to their caretaking.

The five creatures were released back into Thompson's care after test results shows all five were free of dangerously contagious or infectious diseases.

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