The larger-than-life personality of the Oklahoma zoo operator known as Joe Exotic is the subject of the new Netflix documentary "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," which chronicles his eccentric attempts at fame and dramatic fall.
Exotic, whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, founded the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in the late 1990s and was ubiquitous as the park's public face. The documentary shows him touring around the country and engaging in various promotions like magic shows featuring his animals and cub-pettings at malls around the country, as well as a YouTube channel and streaming TV channel to document his park.
His business, which included breeding the wild animals as a means of supporting the lucrative cub-petting operation, soon earned the ire of various animal rights groups, especially Big Cat Rescue owner Carole Baskin. After Baskin successfully got him banned from several malls, the burgeoning feud between the two escalated, with Exotic renaming his road show Big Cat Rescue Entertainment and copying the animal sanctuary's logo to apparently spite Baskin. She ultimately sued him and won a $1 million judgment in 2013, according to National Geographic.
The ruling financially devastated Exotic, leading him taking on a financial partner to keep his park afloat. He also began undertaking increasingly bizarre stunts like a run for president in 2016 and a Oklahoma gubernatorial run in 2017 — all while harboring a seething grudge against Baskin.
The grudge eventually metastasized into Exotic asking both a zoo employee and later an undercover agent to kill Baskin for money.
Some of the conversations were recorded and played at his trial, which ended with convictions on 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.
In addition to the murder-for-hire plot, Exotic was accused of killing tigers — which is illegal under the Endangered Species Act. Exotic had argued the law did not apply to him because he was killing tigers that were born in a zoo and thus were his property, according to National Geographic.
"I put five tigers to sleep because they were in pain," he told local television station KOCO in November 2018. "They were in pain. They had toenails coming out of their ankles. They had no teeth. They had exposed root canals."
After the murder-for-hire conviction, Baskin argued for a harsh sentence.
"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."
He received a 22-year prison sentence in January.
Where is Joe Exotic now?
Exotic is currently in a county jail and awaiting transfer to a federal prison.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's Office of the Western District previously told Oxygen.com that Exotic is awaiting designation of where he will serve his sentence from the Bureau of Prisons.
Exotic is currently not in BOP custody, the agency confirmed to Oxygen.com.
"Specific designation information (including location and timing) is not releasable until after an individual arrives at his or her destination," a bureau spokesperson told Oxygen.com. "For safety and privacy reasons, we do not provide the reason why a specific inmate may be outside the BOP's custody."
After the sentence, Exotic continued to proclaim his innocence, calling the murder-for-hire charge a “very well orchestrated frame job” in a post on his Facebook page.
“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.
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