Oklahoma Zookeeper Gets 22 Years in Murder-for-Hire Case

OKLAHOMA CITY (CN) – A flamboyant Oklahoma zookeeper known as Joe Exotic was sentenced Wednesday to over two decades in federal prison for trying to hire a hit man to kill a rival animal sanctuary operator in Florida.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP)

U.S. District Judge Scott L. Palk sentenced Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, 56, aka Joe Exotic, to 22 years behind bars plus three years of supervised release. The judge cited the seriousness of the charges and Maldonado-Passage’s reluctance to accept responsibility in handing down the lengthy sentence.

Timothy J. Downing, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma, thanked the judge for his “thoughtful consideration” of the “gravity of this murder-for-hire scheme, as well as the defendant’s egregious wildlife crimes.”

Maldonado-Passage was convicted by a federal jury last April of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records, and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.

The jury deliberated for a few hours before finding him guilty of the murder-for-hire plot, for illegally selling tiger cubs and falsifying documents for the sale of a baby lemur, tigers and lions.

Calling himself the “Tiger King,” Maldonado-Passage is known for his flashy blond mullet and expletive-filled YouTube videos featuring wild animals.

Prosecutors claim Maldonado-Passage paid an undercover FBI agent $10,000 to kill Carole Baskin of Tampa, Florida. She operates the rival Big Cat Rescue sanctuary and has a $1 million trademark infringement judgment against Maldonado-Passage’s park in Oklahoma. Prosecutors presented evidence during the weeklong trial that Maldonado-Passage had been trying to have Baskin killed since 2016.

Baskin said after Wednesday’s sentencing that it is “nothing short of a miracle that I’m able to stand before you today,” citing a “daily barrage of threats to harm, rape or kill me” that she endured for 10 years.

“Because of his constant threats to kill me, I have found myself seeing every bystander as a potential threat,” Baskin said in a written statement. “There is nowhere that I have felt safe, and worse, no way that I feel I can safeguard those around me. So many of his threats involved blowing me up, so that he could thrill over seeing me burn to death.”

Baskin further alleges that Maldonado-Passage has claimed to be dying of cancer, renal failure and tuberculosis during the 15 years she has known him.

“He’s alternated that with claims of being crippled and has feigned suicide attempts in order to manipulate others to his will,” Baskin said.

Maldonado-Passage has previously run for president and governor.

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