OKLAHOMA CITY — The operator of a roadside zoo who ran for governor in Oklahoma earlier this year, has been charged in a murder-for-hire plot for allegedly trying to hire people to bump off the owner of a big cat rescue group in Florida, federal prosecutors say.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 55, who is known as “Joe Exotic” runs the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park and has been accused by animal rights groups of mistreating the big cats he keeps there.
Prosecutors say he allegedly tried to hire two separate people to kill Carole Baskin,, CEO of BIg Cat Rescue in Tampa with whom he had been engaged in a dispute with for years. She wasn’t harmed.
Maldonado had threatened Baskin online in recent years including a video of him shooting in the head a blow up doll dressed to look like her.
“Maldonado ran, in our view, one of the most notorious cub petting roadside zoos in the country,” Baskin said. “Years ago he also operated a traveling exhibit that would bring cubs to malls throughout the Midwest and Southwest. When Big Cat Rescue educated the malls about the miserable life this created for the cubs and the malls started cancelling Maldonado’s traveling exhibit, Maldonado retaliated by renaming his traveling show “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment” in order to confuse the public into thinking the show was operated by Big Cat Rescue.”
“In 2011, Big Cat Rescue sued for violations of its intellectual property rights and in 2013 was granted a consent judgment for over $1 million. Litigation to collect on the judgment has been ongoing since then in Oklahoma,” she said.
According to the indictment, Maldonado-Passage gave an unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to kill Basin. He allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed, officials say.
Maldonado-Passage also repeatedly asked a second person to kill Baskin in exchange for money. But that person ultimately put him in contact connected him with an undercover FBI agent, who met with Maldonado-Passage in December 2017.
Known for his blonde mullet and expletive-laden rants on YouTube, Maldonado-Passage finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary for Oklahoma governor in June.
In October 2017, Maldonado-Passage was investigated by police when his then-husband, 23-year-old Travis Maldonado, shot himself in the head in the zoo gift shop. Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes said at the time that witnesses reported Travis Maldonado put a loaded firearm to his head and pulled the trigger to prove the weapon would not fire with the magazine removed.
Maldonado married another man, Dillon Jacob Passage, in December.