Sentencing scheduled for Joe Exotic in murder-for-hire conviction

OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A sentencing date for Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage has been set in the new year after he was found guilty for a murder-for-hire plot and wildlife charges in April.

Oklahoma’s ‘tiger king’ will be sentenced by a judge at the US Courthouse on Jan. 22, 2020.

Fifty-six-year-old Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as ‘Joe Exotic,’ was indicted in September 2018 on two counts of murder-for-hire and later indicted with more than a dozen wildlife charges.

A jury found the former Greater Wynnewood Animal Park owner guilty of all 19 counts on April 2, 2019.

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“The self-described "Tiger King" was not above the law,” said First Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert J. Troester in a prepared statement. “Rather, the jury only needed a few hours of deliberation before finding him guilty of engaging in a murder-for-hire plot to kill a rival and violating federal laws intended to protect wildlife when he killed multiple tigers, sold tiger cubs and falsified wildlife records. We are thankful for the jury’s careful attention, deliberation and verdict in this case.”

The intended target was Carole Baskin, a chief critic of Maldonado-Passage. Baskin is the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a sanctuary in Florida. She successfully sued Maldonado-Passage in 2011 for trademark infringement before a 2013 judgment ordered Maldonado-Passage to pay $1 million.

In addition to the murder-for-hire counts, Maldonado-Passage was also convicted of violating the Lacey Act. Under that law, it is a crime to falsify records of wildlife transactions in interstate commerce. He has also been convicted of shooting and killing five tigers in October 2017 without a veterinarian present and in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Maldonado-Passage could be imprisoned on each murder-for-hire count 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. Each Lacey Act violation could carry a prison term of five years, a fine of $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Each Endangered Species Act count could result in one year in prison, a fine of $100,000 and one year of supervised release.

In October, U.S. public defender Bill Earley filed a sentencing memorandum for Joseph Maldonado-Passage in hopes to reduce his prison sentence.

In the memorandum, Earley says Maldonado-Passage was “painted as a liar, thief, animal abuser and homicidal maniac.”

Ten letters were also submitted from friends asking the court to consider their experiences they’ve had with Maldonado-Passage.

Maldonado-Passage will remain in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service until his sentencing in the new year.

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