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New Docu-Series Highlights Bizarre Crimes And Downfall Of Oklahoma Zookeeper ‘Joe Exotic’

Joe Exotic, who's real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced to 22 years for trying to orchestrate the murder of an animal rights activist who was critical of his big cat operation.

By Connor Mannion
Exotic Joe Netflix

An Oklahoma zookeeper who goes by the name "Joe Exotic" and who is currently set to serve a decades-long prison sentence for a bizarre murder-for-hire plot is now the subject of an upcoming Netflix docu-series. 

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known by the more eccentric moniker he used while running an exotic animal park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, was sentenced to 22 years in prison earlier this year after a federal jury convicted him last 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.

Maldonado-Passage was convicted of attempting to hire a hitman to kill animal rights activist and Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, who was a vocal critic of his zoo and had won a $1 million judgment against Maldonado-Passage.

The former zookeeper is believed to have discussed a paying a zoo employee $3,000 to kill Baskin and he also discussed the same killing with an undercover officer posing as a hitman.

Joseph Maldonado

“Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off," he told the undercover agent in a recording played during his trial, the Associated Press reported.

Now his story will be told in the upcoming docu-series "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" which is set to premiere on Netflix later this month. Alongside the series of events that would ultimately land him in prison, the trailer for the series also documents other sides of Maldonado-Passage's life, like his passion for country music. The trailer closes with a segment of a song he wrote entitled "I Saw A Tiger."

In addition to the murder-for-hire plot, Maldonado-Passage was accused of killing five tigers in October 2017 to make room for other big cats, also allegedly selling and offering to sell tiger cubs to people. The man admitted to killing tigers, but insisted he did it for humane reasons in an interview with an Oklahoma news station.

"I put five tigers to sleep because they were in pain," Maldonado-Passage told local television station KOCO November 2018. "They were in pain. They had toenails coming out of their ankles. They had no teeth. They had exposed root canals."

"If he completes his sentence and is released, we will end up spending the rest of our lives, constantly looking over our shoulders, for a threat to our lives," Baskin said at his sentencing, according to NBC News. "I hope you will give us as many years free of that threat as you can."

"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," the zookeeper said in a statement, calling his conviction and sentence a "well orchestrated frame job." 

Madonado-Passage also attempted a run for president as a write-in candidate in 2016 and ran for Oklahoma governor as a Libertarian in 2017. The latter campaign featured personal tragedy after the zookeeper's husband Travis Maldonado, 23, accidentally shot himself in the head and died while attempting to prove his gun would not fire if the magazine was removed, the Associated Press reported in October 2017.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Western District told Oxygen.com that Maldonado-Passage is currently in custody and awaiting designation of where he will serve his sentence from the BOP.

"I don't believe Joe Exotic will survive prison," his former gubernatorial campaign manager Joshua Dial previously told local news outlet KFOR. "I don't believe he will survive."

"Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness" will be available to stream on Netflix starting Friday, March 20.

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