Zookeeper Joe Exotic Convicted Of Murder-For-Hire Plot Targeting Animal Sanctuary Owner

The Oklahoma animal wrangler hired two supposed hit men to kill Carole Baskin, founder of Florida's Big Cat Rescue.

A former Oklahoma zookeeper known as Joe Exotic has been convicted of murder-for-hire in a failed plot to kill the founder of a Florida wildlife sanctuary.

A federal jury found Exotic ― whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage ― guilty of two counts of murder-for-hire, along with nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act for killing tigers and eight counts of violating the Lacey Act by falsifying wildlife records, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

“The self-described Tiger King was not above the law,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester said in the statement.

Joe Exotic in a booking photo from his arrest.
Joe Exotic in a booking photo from his arrest.
Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office

Exotic previously owned a zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, now known as the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. He sold the animal park in 2016, though he remained on staff until June 2018. He was also known for his YouTube videos featuring wild animals, which he called JoeExoticTV. Exotic made an unconventional presidential bid in in 2016.

The jury believed the prosecution contention that Exotic plotted to kill Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa. Exotic and Baskin had a long and hostile history. Baskin repeatedly accused Exotic of abusing animals, joining other critics of the Wynnewood zoo, including the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Exotic’s zoo also came under scrutiny from the Department of Agriculture.

Exotic would hit back at Baskin and claim that she was actually the one mistreating animals at her sanctuary. He also once orchestrated a video of himself shooting a blow-up doll that looked like Baskin in the head.

In November 2017, Exotic paid a supposed hit man $3,000 to kill Baskin, and promised to pay more after she was dead, the Justice Department said. He tried to hire another hit man the next month. That supposed killer turned out to be an undercover FBI agent whose secret recordings of the plot were played for jurors.

Exotic’s Endangered Species Act convictions included charges related to shooting five tigers to death in October 2017 with no veterinarian present, the DOJ release said.

He also was found guilty of falsifying records related to selling tigers, lions and a baby lemur. These were violations of the Lacey Act, which prohibits falsifying records of wildlife transactions in interstate commerce.

Exotic will be sentenced in about 90 days. He faces a maximum of a decade imprisonment on each murder-for-hire count and years more for the additional charges.

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