'Joe Exotic:' Tiger keeper charged in Florida murder-for-hire plot

Pensacola News Journal

Published 9:28 PM EDT Sep 8, 2018

'Joe Exotic:' Tiger keeper charged in Florida murder-for-hire plot

PENSACOLA, Fla. – A former presidential candidate, tiger keeper and minor internet celebrity known as "Joe Exotic" was arrested for allegedly trying to order a hit on the CEO of a South Florida wildlife rescue sanctuary.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado, Joseph Allen Schreibvogel and "Joe Exotic," 55, formerly of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, has been indicted on two counts of hiring a person to commit murder, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

On Sept. 5, a federal grand jury returned an indictment that accuses Maldonado-Passage of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder a "Jane Doe" in Florida, according to a DOJ news release. 

According to the indictment, Maldonado-Passage gave the unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to carry out the murder. He allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed was done. 

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In a second count, the indictment alleges that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a different unnamed person to find someone to murder Jane Doe in exchange for money.  The second person put Maldonado-Passage in contact with an undercover FBI agent. Maldonado-Passage met with the undercover agent on Dec. 8 to discuss details of murdering Jane Doe, which ultimately led to his arrest.

The "Jane Doe" Maldonado-Passage wanted dead was Carole Baskin, CEO of the Tampa wildlife sanctuary Big Cat Rescue, the organization claims.

According to Oklahoma media reports, Maldonado-Passage operated a private tiger zoo in Oklahoma, and in 2013 he lost a $1 million trademark infringement lawsuit against Big Cat Rescue after reportedly lifting images and logos from the Florida sanctuary.

After Maldonado's arrest, Big Cat Rescue posted that "Maldonado had made threats online over a period of years including a video of him shooting in the head a blow up doll dressed to look like Carole and an image hanging her in effigy."

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Maldonado-Passage in Gulf Breeze on Friday, and he made an initial appearance before a U.S. magistrate in Pensacola. According to jail records, he is currently being held in Santa Rosa County jail without bond.

If Maldonado-Passage is found guilty of murder-for-hire, he could be imprisoned on each count for up to 10 years. He would also be subject to up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 per count.

Maldonado-Passage found a measure of online fame after he ran for president of the United States in 2016 and followed up in 2017 with a bid to be governor of Oklahoma. In a regular series of campaign videos, the self-proclaimed "redneck" repeatedly claimed if elected he would not cut his hair, wear a suit or deny anything he had done in his past.

(WARNING: The following video contains explicit language)

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