Former Oklahoma zoo owner "Joe Exotic” has been sentenced to 22 years in prison for trying to hire a hitman to kill an animal rights activist and violating the Endangered Species Act by shooting five tigers.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, known as “Joe Exotic,” was handed down the sentence Wednesday, January 22, after a federal jury convicted him in the spring 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, according to a statement from The United States Attorney’s Office Western District of Oklahoma.
“We are thankful for the Court’s thoughtful consideration of the gravity of this murder-for-hire scheme, as well as the defendant’s egregious wildlife crimes in imposing a 22-year sentence,” U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Downing said. “This sentence is the result of countless hours of detailed investigative work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
After the sentence, Maldonado-Passage continued to proclaim his innocence in a post on his Facebook page, calling the murder-for-hire charge a “very well orchestrated frame job.”
“I still maintain my innocence and looking forward in the upcoming days to my attorneys filing my Appeal and moving on to the next step in this Nightmare,” he wrote.
Maldonado-Passage was convicted of trying to hire someone to kill Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, a Florida animal sanctuary, who had criticized his treatment of animals. Baskin had even won a million-dollar judgment against the zoo owner, which upset him, authorities said.
Federal investigators said Maldonado-Passage gave a man $3,000 to travel to Florida to murder Baskin, and had promised to deliver more money once the deed was complete.
He also met with an undercover officer to discuss the murder-for-hire plot and his desire to get rid of Baskin in taped conversations that were played for the jury, according to the statement.
“Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off,” he said in one recording, according to The Associated Press.
He had offered the agent $10,000 for the hit, authorities said.
Maldonado-Passage was also convicted of serious wildlife crimes, including fatally shooting five tigers in October 2017 to make room for other animals.
Authorities said he also falsified records of wildlife transactions, claiming that tigers, lions and a baby lemur were being donated or transported to the recipient, although the reality was the animals were being sold.
Maldonado-Passage had run an exotic animal park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. The 56-year-old man, known for his blonde mullet, also ran for president as an independent in 2016, according to local station KOCO.
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