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Oklahoma Zookeeper And One-Time Gov. Candidate Known As 'Joe Exotic' Sentenced For Murder-For-Hire Plot, Wildlife Abuses

Oklahoma Zookeeper And One-Time Gov. Candidate Known As 'Joe Exotic' Sentenced For Murder-For-Hire Plot, Wildlife Abuses
Santa Rosa County Jail

A federal judge in Oklahoma City ordered Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. "Joe Exotic," to serve 22 years in prison in a murder-for-hire plot in addition to violating federal wildlife laws.

Madonado-Passage, 56, was an exotic animal park owner in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and a one-time candidate for governor.

He tried a number of times to hire someone to murder Carole Baskin, an open critic of his who is an animal rights activist and founder of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Tampa that houses abused and abandoned animals like lions, tigers, bobcats, and cougars.

Baskin remained unharmed.

According to an indictment, Baskin openly lambasted Maldonado-Passage's treatment of his animals, and he was angry she had won a million-dollar civil judgment against him and his business in 2011.

After winning her civil suit, Baskin received numerous threats from Maldonado-Passage since 2012 on platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

In November 2017, Joe Exotic offered someone $3,000 to travel to Florida and kill Baskin, and promised to pay thousands more after her death.

When that attempt failed, prosecutors said he contacted someone else and offered $10,000 to murder the prominent animal activist.

That person wound up being an undercover FBI agent.

Their conversation from December 2017 was taped and played for the jury.

Maldonado-Passage can be heard telling the FBI agent:

"Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off."

Baskin posted a YouTube video reading her witness statement to the court, explaining that the conviction of Maldonado-Passage was made:

"based upon only a handful of vivid examples of his malicious intent to murder me. The prosecution didn't need to present the daily barrage of threats to harm, rape, or kill me that were my daily experience for the past ten years."
"The evidence showed that over the course of many years, he tried to coerce others into killing me and in the end resorted to hiring others to kill me."

Maldonado-Passage was also sentenced to three years of supervised release.

Baskin asked the court what would happen when he is finally let go from prison.

"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."
"I hope you will give us as many years free of that threat as you can."

According to NBC News, Maldonado-Passage was also sentenced for nine counts in violation of the Endangered Species Act after killing five tigers in 2017.

He claimed he "needed empty cages" to make room for other big cats his park was planning to board.

Baskin took to Twitter to thank all those who have supported her and are "making the call of the wild."

Maldonado-Passage maintained his innocence with a written statement posted on his Facebook page.

"I still maintain my innocence and looking forward in the upcoming days to my attorneys filing my appeal and moving onto the next step in this nightmare."
"At some point the U.S. Attorneys office and Agents involved will have to answer to the fact that they participated in Perjury to obtain this conviction."

U.S. Attorney Tim Downing expressed his satisfaction over Maldonado-Passage's sentence in a statement.

"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."

PETA, along with other animal rights activists, also rejoiced over the news of Exotic Joe's sentencing.

Maldonado-Passage was additionally convicted on eight counts for violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records.

During his campaign as a candidate for Oklahoma Governor – in which he ultimately finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary – his 23-year-old husband, Travis Moldonado, accidentally fatally shot himself in the head.

According to Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes, witnesses saw the 23-year-old point a loaded firearm to his head and pull the trigger to prove it would not fire with the magazine removed.

In 2018, Maldonado-Passage was quoted in an article by OKC Fox, saying:

"I just feel strongly about it's your life, you own it, and as long as you don't hurt anyone else you should have the right to do whatever you want."

He forgot the part about killing animals and murder-for-hire attempts having consequences.

But like he said, it's his life, and he'll be owning 22 years of it behind bars.