An Oklahoma zookeeper, who was accused in September of trying to hire a hit man to kill an animal rights activist, is now facing 19 new charges, with prosecutors alleging he shot and killed five tigers to "make room" for other animals.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," also illegally sold tiger cubs and falsified records about the sale of tigers, lions and a baby lemur, according to a press release from the Western District of Oklahoma's United States Attorney's Office.
Maldonado-Passage, who also ran for Oklahoma governor on the Libertarian ballot in the primaries this year, killed the tigers in October 2017, prosecutors say. He had been expecting the "arrival of certain big cats that were to be boarded for a fee at the exotic animal park" and needed more space to house the additional animals, according to KFOR-TV, which cited the indictment.
Investigators discovered the bodies of the dead tigers during a recent dig at the exotic animal park he ran in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, KJRH reports.
His alleged sale of tiger cubs is a violation of the Endangered Species Act. Prosecutors said the zookeeper also violated the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to falsify records of wildlife sales across states. They contend that he wrote on forms and veterinary inspection certificates that tigers, lions and a baby lemur were being donated or being transported only for exhibition "when he knew that they were being sold in interstate commerce," they said.
Altogether, Maldonado-Passage is facing 19 wildlife charges. These charges are in addition to two counts of murder-for-hire he was indicted on in September.
According to prosecutors, Maldonado-Passage tried to hire two different people to kill an animal rights activist in Florida, with whom he had an ongoing feud. He paid the first $3,000 and told the individual to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then Florida, where the murder would be carried out, prosecutors said. He allegedly planned to pay more after the hit had been carried out. The would-be hit man allegedly had traveled to South Carolina on Nov. 26, 2017.
He also allegedly asked another person to find someone to commit the murder. That person secretly arranged for Maldonado-Passage to meet with an undercover FBI agent. The undercover agent and Maldonado-Passage meet on Dec. 8, 2017 and discussed the details of the crime, prosecutors said in the statement.
The indictment lists the target as Jane Doe, but Carole Baskin, who runs an animal sanctuary in Tampa, has said publicly it was her.
Maldonado-Passage was allegedly angry at the woman, in part, because she won a $1 million lawsuit against him over improper business practices, KJRH reports.
He has pleaded not guilty to the murder-for-hire charges. If convicted on those, he could face up to 10 years in prison for each count.
He could also face additional prison time and fines for the wildlife charges.
[Photo: Santa Rosa Sheriff's Office in Florida]
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