The former operator of a tiger zoo has been arrested and charged in an alleged plot to murder a long-time animal rights activist. Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 55, has for many years run the Wynnewood Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
His alleged intended victim is Carole Baskin, 57, who runs an animal sanctuary in Tampa, Florida.
Maldonado-Passage is a minor internet celebrity thanks to his online videos. He promotes himself under the moniker ‘Joe Exotic’. In 2016, he launched an independent bid to be President.
For several years, Maldonado-Passage has been involved in a war of words and litigation with Baskin.
Baskin, 57, runs the Big Cat Animal Sanctuary in Tampa, Florida. She claims Maldonado-Passage mistreats the animals in his care. She says he has separated tiger cubs from their mothers and keeps his animals in appalling conditions. Baskin has been consistently critical of Passage’s ‘notorious’ petting zoo operations.
Maldonado-Passage took some of his big cats on tours of shopping malls. Baskin complained direct to the malls concerned, leading some to cancel the appearances. Maldonado-Passage then renamed his traveling show ‘Big Cat Rescue Entertainment’.
Some perceived this as a swipe at Baskin, who uses the same name for her sanctuary, and an attempt to confuse the public.
Baskin successfully sued Maldonado-Passage over the name change in 2011. In 2013, he was ordered to pay her $1million in compensation. This reportedly left him close to financial ruin.
Social media postings
In a further demonstration of his dislike of Baskin, Maldonado-Passage posted a video to social media of himself shooting a gun at a blow-doll, and warning Baskin, ‘Wanna know why Carole Baskin better never, ever, ever see me face to face ever, ever ever again?
‘That is how sick and tired of this s*** I am.’
In another social media posting he said, ‘For Carole and all of her friends that are watching out there, if you think for one minute I was nuts before, I am the most dangerous exotic animal owner on this planet right now.
‘And before you bring me down, it is my belief that you will stop breathing.’
Authorities arrested Maldonado-Passage Friday in the Gulf Breeze, Florida. The Department of Justice have indicted him on two counts of hiring a person to commit murder following an undercover operation.
A statement released by the Department of Justice provides further details.
‘According to the indictment, Maldonado-Passage gave the unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina [in November 2017] and then to Florida to carry out the murder. He allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed.
‘In a second count, the indictment alleges that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a different unnamed person to find someone to murder Jane Doe in exchange for money.
‘The second person put Maldonado-Passage in contact with an undercover FBI agent. Maldonado-Passage met with the undercover agent on December 8, 2017, to discuss details of murdering Jane Doe.’
Alleged intended victim thanks law enforcement
Reacting to the arrest, Baskin (not named by the Department of Justice but revealed by several news sources) posted messages to her own Facebook. She said she has received numerous death threats over the years.
‘Because Big Cat Rescue has been a leader in working to stop what we view as abuse of big cats and been very effective in our work, I have received multiple death threats over the years, including at one point a number of snakes placed in my mailbox. According to the FBI, animal abuse is highly correlated with human-to-human violence.’
She thanked the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the FBI, the US Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma and the US Marshall’s Service for their investigation and the subsequent arrest of Maldonado-Passage.
Accidental death of former husband
Maldonado-Passage talked about his sexuality in his Presidential campaign material, stating: ‘I’ve had two boyfriends most of my life. I’ve had some kinky sex. I have tried drugs.’
His former husband, Travis Maldonado, 23, died last October in a shooting accident. The younger man reportedly pointed a gun to his head in front of a friend at the Wynnewood Animal Park, saying he didn’t think it would fire.
However, it did and he died at the scene. Maldonado-Passage was not present at the time.
If found guilty on the murder-for-hire charges, Maldonado-Passage faces up to 20 years in jail and a $500,000 fine.