You may not know Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage by his real name, but chances are, if you live in Oklahoma, you've heard of Joe Exotic. The founder and former owner of a private petting zoo in Oklahoma has been in and out of the news for years, but this time, his antics have landed him behind bars without bond as he awaits trial in an alleged murder-for-hire plot.
Maldonado-Passage, more widely known as Joe Exotic, is accused of threatening to kill the operator of a Florida animal sanctuary and of attempting to hire someone to kill her. Carol Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, has criticized Maldonado-Passage for allowing tiger cubs to be petted for profit, and in 2013, her organization won judgments against Joe Exotic for copyright and trademark infringements. Since then, she has been unable to collect the judgments, which has resulted in further litigation against Maldonado-Passage, his family member, and Jeff Lowe, the current owner of the Wynnewood exotic animal park.
A grand jury alleges that Joe Exotic has made multiple social media posts threatening Baskin's life, going so far as to shoot her in effigy in one video. He also posted that he was going to Florida to commit suicide, later amending in the comments that it would be a murder suicide. His attorney claims that the posts were publicity stunts, saying that his client is "a showman."
A judge disagreed that the videos were simply "skits," and said that there was no indication that Maldonado-Passage would not pose a threat to anyone's safety should he be released pending trial.
He further noted concerns about the defendant's mental state, noting that Maldonado-Passage said he was "going to live with Travis" if he did not get bond, referring to his former husband, Travis Maldonado, who died a year ago after accidentally shooting himself in the head.
Additionally, prosecutors pointed out that Maldonado-Passage is accused of paying someone $3,000 to kill Baskin and said that he would pay more after the job was finished. He reportedly met in December with an undercover FBI agent posing as a hit man, and a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent testified he discovered the murder-for-hire plot while investigating illegal wildlife sales.
A federal judge has denied bond for Joe Exotic. The trial is set for November, but it is expected that the trial will be delayed.
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