CRIME

Animal Sanctuary Owner Says She Was Target In Zookeeper's Murder-For-Hire Plot

Big cat handler Joe Exotic has been indicted in a bizarre criminal case.

A controversial zookeeper and former Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate has been indicted in an alleged murder-for-hire scheme, and a Florida animal sanctuary founder says she was his intended victim.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, best known as Joe Exotic, was indicted by a federal grand jury for allegedly trying to pay two different people to kill a Florida woman, the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release on Friday. He is also known under the names Joseph Allen Maldonado and Joseph Allen Schreibvogel.

Joe Exotic, aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joseph Schreibvogel, in a booking photo.
Joe Exotic, aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joseph Schreibvogel, in a booking photo.

Exotic formerly owned the G.W. Exotic Animal Memorial Park, an Oklahoma zoo now called the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. Current zoo owner Jeff Lowe bought the place and took over as CEO in 2016, but Exotic remained on staff as the “entertainment director” until last June, a zoo rep told HuffPost.

The DOJ only identified Exotic’s target as “Jane Doe.” But Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, says it was her. She released a statement citing multiple threatening statements Exotic made over the years, largely in online videos uploaded to his YouTube channel, JoeExoticTV. Big Cat Rescue posted a clip on Facebook showing Exotic shooting the head off of a blow-up doll made to look like Baskin.

“I was surprised he didn’t want to do it himself,” Baskin told local outlet News 9, of the alleged homicidal scheme.

According to the DOJ, Exotic gave an unidentified person $3,000 in November 2017 to murder his target, agreeing to pay the hit-person more when the deed was done. Prosecutors also allege that in 2016, Exotic repeatedly asked a second person to find him someone who could carry out the murder. That second person connected Exotic with an undercover FBI agent, who the DOJ alleges met with him to talk about the details of the plot.

Baskin and Exotic have had a contentious relationship for years. Baskin has repeatedly accused him of mistreating animals and endangering visitors during his stint as operator of the zoo in Wynnewood.

He, in turn, repeatedly hit back at Baskin, accusing her of of mistreating animals at Big Cat Rescue and calling her a hypocrite.

Under Joe Exotic’s Leadership, the Wynnewood zoo also drew the ire of animal advocacy groups like the Humane Society of the United States and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. It was also the subject of multiple Department of Agriculture investigations.

Baskin sued Exotic in 2011, claiming trademark infringement after he began displaying animals using the name “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment,” the Tampa Bay Business Journal reported at the time. A judge ultimately ordered Exotic to pay Baskin $1 million, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In addition to his animal-related exploits, Exotic has also made bids for political office. Last year, Exotic ran for Oklahoma governor, ultimately coming in third in the state’s Libertarian primary, The Associated Press reports. And in 2016, he campaigned as a write-in candidate for president and was featured on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight.” 

 
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