Joe Exotic, charged in murder-for-hire plot, appears in court on new wildlife charges; new trial date set

Joseph Maldonaldo-Passage or "Joe Exotic"

OKLAHOMA CITY – A former exotic animal zoo keeper, charged with allegedly trying to hire someone to murder a Florida woman, appeared before a federal judge Wednesday on the latest charges that he illegally killed and sold federally protected animals.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 55, who is better known in Oklahoma as “Joe Exotic,” appeared in custody before Magistrate Judge Gary Purcell Wednesday afternoon.

The former Oklahoma gubernatorial, one-time independent presidential candidate and former owner of the the Greater Wynnewood Animal Park in Garvin County, was indicted by an Oklahoma federal grand jury in September with allegedly trying to hire people to kill a Florida woman who runs a big cat rescue program, and who had sued Maldonado-Passage in 2011 for trademark infringement.

Last week, a grand jury indicted Maldonado-Passage with an additional 19 counts of wildlife charges, including the violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act. He’s accused of shooting and killing five tigers in October 2017 to make room in cages for other big cats, and selling and offering to sell tiger cubs. He’s also accused of falsifying records relating to the tigers, lions and a baby lemur which were purportedly being donated or transported for exhibition, but were actually sold.

Maldonado-Passage said little during the arraignment hearing Wednesday, other than answering Purcell’s questions regarding the charges. He pleaded not guilty to the charges and remains in custody of the U.S. Marshals pending his scheduled January 2019 trial date.