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"Tiger King" star Joe Exotic has decided to take his long-time arch-nemesis up on an offer to help him receive a reduced prison sentence — but that olive branch did come with one caveat.
Exotic, whose real name is Joe Maldonado-Passage, is serving 22 years behind bars for multiple wildlife violations and the 2017 plot to kill big cat sanctuary owner Carole Baskin. Now, the eccentric former zoo owner is looking to Baskin for assistance, referencing an offer made by her husband, Howard Baskin, in a recent interview with the UK tabloid The Mirror.
Howard Baskin told the media outlet that he would be willing to support Exotic’s early release if he were willing to throw his support behind the Big Cat Public Safety Act, a bill that The New York Times has said is designed to keep unlicensed individuals from owning tigers and other big cats and from allowing the public to pet such animals while visiting zoos.
“If Joe were to come out and say, ‘I now know what I did was wrong and I want to help, I would like to support passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act and stop this breeding' — if he were to do that, it might position him in a positive way for a pardon. And frankly, I might be willing to go and urge at least a reduction in his sentence,” he told the tabloid.
In the same interview, Carole Baskin told the outlet that Exotic could “become a hero” if he joined efforts to preserve the tiger population.
“We’re going to lose the tiger in the wild in the next few years if we don’t stop private possession that is creating this flood of cats into the illegal trade, which is a smokescreen for poaching in the wild,” she said. “That is something he could do something with and get all the glory and fame he ever wanted, and do a good thing.”
Exotic recently told Entertainment Tonight from inside the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas that he’d be willing to accept the offer if the couple would come to his aid.
"It is time for Carole and Howard to put up or shut the hell up, because I'm accepting their offer," he told the show's producers. "And I'm gonna take it one step further than that, OK? It is time to get on the phone to President Biden or whoever they need to that they've got in their little financial pocket and say, 'Hey, Joe is willing to support a big cat bill to help protect cats in America from being exploited. But we need to keep our end of the deal and get Joe a pardon because this wasn't really about murder for hire or shooting five tigers — this was about exploiting Joe to support Carole's agenda.' So, there's the offer on the table, all right?"
While Exotic was quick to say he didn’t believe the bill was “going to help anybody except PETA and Carole Baskin” he did say he would be willing to publicly support the measure.
“I’ll testify in front of the Senate, I’ll testify in front of the House — they want to end big cats in America and they want to end the exploitation of them, I’m the man to do it,” he said. “But it’s time to get an attorney general down here and listen to the evidence that I have to prove I’m innocent and get me the hell out of here.”
Exotic added he “just called their bluff” and added that if they weren’t willing to stand behind the offer, the couple should “stay the hell out of the news.”
Baskin later told ET that she continues to stand by her offer but added that it would take more than Exotic’s word.
“I wouldn’t seek a reduced sentence for Joe based upon him just saying he’d help end cub handling,” she said. “I think he’d say anything, but not actually do it. He’d have to actually work with authorities to bring all of his buddies to justice and work with legislators to end cub handling. Then, I’d want him to be rewarded for having done the right thing.”
Exotic’s legal team had been confident he would receive a pardon from Donald Trump during the former president's final days in office; they hired a pickup stretch limo to wait outside the prison — but the expected pardon was never announced.
In his interview with ET, Exotic called the former president a “chicken s---” and said he was only willing to help “people that he got in trouble out of jail.”
Exotic said his most pressing problem now is his own declining health, which he said is “deteriorating by the day” behind bars.
“I have CVID, which is a common variable immune disease... and I have to get blood infusions every three to four weeks, and I’ve only been getting them every three months,” he said. “I was weighed again last week and I lost another 10 pounds last week alone.”
Common variable immune deficiency (CVID) is a disorder that impairs the immune system and makes people highly susceptible to infection from bacteria and sometimes viruses and recurrent infections.
Exotic also said he has hemoglobin anemia but isn’t receiving the care he needs in prison.
“They used to take me downtown to the cancer center for treatment but we stopped doing that,” he said. “I refused treatment for tuberculosis last week, I’m dealing with another disease, my mouth is full of ulcers. I cannot eat. I look bad.”
If he ever does get out of prison, Exotic said he plans to support prison reform and the nonprofit organization Operation Smile.
In the interview, he also addressed his marriage to Dillon Passage, who announced last month on Instagram that he and “Tiger King” star were headed for divorce.
According to Exotic, the couple has decided to stay married and now speak three times a day on the phone. However, he said he’d understand if his husband ever decided he needed to leave the marriage.
“You know, if he needs to move on, I have to respect that. I can’t expect him to just hang on forever,” he told ET. “He has told me time and time again…if I make it out of here alive, I still have a home to come to. So, he said he is not going anywhere, all right? That is all I can say because that is all I know.”
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