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Big Cat Zookeeper Named 'Joe Exotic' Accused In Murder-For-Hire Plot

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 55, allegedly plotted to kill animal rights activist Carole Baskin.

By Gina Tron

A zookeeper at an exotic animal park in Oklahoma has been charged in a murder-for-hire scheme aimed at killing a Florida woman, federal prosecutors announced on Friday.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 55, also known as "Joe Exotic," was indicted in federal court in Oklahoma City on two counts of hiring a person to commit murder. He was arrested in Gulf Breeze, Florida on Thursday.

Prosecutors allege Maldonado-Passage tried to hire two separate people to kill the woman, who wasn't harmed. While the indictment lists the woman as Jane Doe, Carole Baskin, who runs animal sancutary Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, has identified herself as the alleged target, according to KWTV in Oklahoma City.

“I was surprised he didn't want to do it himself, but I wasn't surprised he would try and follow through,” Baskin told the outlet, adding that Maldonado-Passage allegedly threatened to kill her about a dozen times over the past few years. Several of these alleged threats were made on video, saved and reposted on Big Cat Rescue's website. It's not clear when exactly the threatening videos were made. 

“For Carole and all her friends that are watching, if you think I was nuts before, I’m the most dangerous exotic animal owner on this planet, and before you bring me down, it is my belief that you will stop breathing, got that?”

In one video he dresses up a blow-up doll which resembles Baskin, before he shoots its head off.

“That, is how sick and tired of this  s--t I am,” he says, pointing his hand at the camera.

“Joe Exotic” blames Baskin for judgments totaling more than $1 million against him, according to the Oklahoman. In 2011, Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue successfully sued Maldonado-Passage’s Big Cat Rescue Entertainment for violating their intellectual property rights.

One of the unidentified people Maldonado-Passage allegedly sought to hire to kill Baskin connected him with an undercover FBI agent, who met with Maldonado-Passage in December 2017, according to the indictment. 

Court records don't list an attorney for Maldonado-Passage, who didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

Known for his blonde mullet and expletive-laden rants on YouTube, Maldonado-Passage has also gotten involved in politics, running for Oklahoma governor this year. He finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary in June. He previously announced his candidacy for president in 2015.

One video, posted last December, features Maldonado-Passage shouting about his bid for governor while surrounded by large cats.

“The State of Oklahoma needs a real working person, Joe lays it out so he can continue with no drama because he already admits to anything he has done in his past,” the video summary states. “Honesty is the best policy.”

In October 2017, Garvin County authorities investigated after Maldonado-Passage's then-husband, 23-year-old Travis Maldonado, shot himself in the head in the zoo gift shop. Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes said at the time that witnesses reported Maldonado put a loaded firearm to his head and pulled the trigger to prove the weapon would not fire with the magazine removed.

Maldonado married another man, Dillon Jacob Passage, in December, court records show.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

[Photo: Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office in Florida]

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