By Jason Geary
Last Modified: Tuesday, November 25, 2008 at 10:20 p.m.
BARTOW | The founder of a Davenport wildlife center was sentenced Tuesday to three years' probation and must get rid of his animals.
Darryl Atkinson was accused of accepting money in exchange for signing off on people's community service hours for work they didn't perform.
Atkinson, 52, pleaded no contest to grand theft, culpable negligence and four counts of maintaining captive wildlife in an unsafe or unsanitary condition.
Prosecutors dropped a charge of forgery.
Circuit Judge Dennis Maloney agreed to withhold adjudication, which is a formal finding of guilt that can strip a person of certain rights.
As part of a plea deal, Atkinson agreed to surrender two wildlife licenses.
He is also prohibited from working or consulting about captive wildlife in Florida.
He must get rid of all wildlife in his possession within six months.
Gary Morse, a spokesman with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, said Atkinson has already divested himself of many of his large animals, including lions, tigers and bears.
Morse said inspectors would soon visit to see whether any animals remain.
Atkinson did not return a telephone call Tuesday seeking comment.
For years, Atkinson, who founded Horseshoe Creek Wildlife Foundation near Davenport, has had a contentious relationship with wildlife inspectors.
In May 2007, Atkinson entered into a plea agreement on multiple counts of maintaining wildlife in an unsafe condition.
The agreement called for Atkinson to receive money to improve his cages.
Local defense lawyers contributed $1,775, and the State Attorney's Office authorized the donation of $3,000 from fines paid in vice cases.
In February, Atkinson was arrested after an undercover officer posed as a person who needed to perform 100 hours community service, according to an arrest report.
The officer's meeting with Atkinson was secretly recorded, during which Atkinson agreed to sign his paper work for $400, the report states.
In March, Atkinson lost a license for not meeting federal requirements (USDA) and the center was closed to the public.
[ Jason Geary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7536. ]
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