OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – A man known as ‘Oklahoma’s Tiger King’ has been sentenced to more than 20 years in prison for his role in a bizarre murder-for-hire plot.
In 2018, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic” and former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Animal Park, was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of murder-for-hire.
Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage gave a person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to carry out the murder of a Florida woman and “allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.
A grand jury also indicted Maldonado-Passage on an additional 19 counts of wildlife charges, including the violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act. Prosecutors say he shot and killed five tigers in October 2017 to make room in cages for other big cats, and sold tiger cubs. He was 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.
Officials offered evidence in the form of recordings of Maldonado-Passage negotiating the hiring of the undercover FBI agent, who was posing as a hitman. When talking about payment, Maldonado-Passage reportedly said, “I’ll just sell a bunch of tigers.”
The intended target of the hit was Carole Baskin, a chief critic of Maldonado-Passage. Baskin successfully sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark infringement in 2011, and was outspoken about the treatment of animals at the park.
The defense claimed their client was framed. They say he was all talk and had no intention of wanting Baskin dead.
The former Greater Wynnewood Animal Park owner was found guilty on all counts last year.
In October, U.S. public defender Bill Earley filed a sentencing memorandum for Joseph Maldonado-Passage in hopes of reducing his prison sentence. In the memorandum, Earley says Maldonado-Passage was “painted as a liar, thief, animal abuser and homicidal manic.”
In all, 10 letters were also submitted from friends asking the court to consider the experiences they’ve had with Maldonado-Passage.
Sentencing for Maldonado-Passage was held on Wednesday morning.
He was ultimately sentenced to a total of 22 years in prison for all of the convictions. Officials say he was sentenced to nine years in prison for each of the murder-for-hire convictions, and four years for the wildlife violations.