Joe Exotic talked of using gubernatorial campaign as murder alibi
In a recording played for jurors Thursday, zookeeper Joe Exotic agreed to pay an undercover FBI agent to kill a Florida woman and talked of using his gubernatorial campaign to create an alibi.
"Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off," he told the undercover agent who was posing as a hit man.
"That's easy. That's easy," the undercover agent replied.
Jurors listened to the 47-minute secretly recorded conversation during the testimony of the special agent, who was identified only by a pseudonym, Mark Williams, for his protection. U.S. District Judge Scott Palk asked members of the media not to do any courtroom sketches of the agent.
The 2018 Libertarian candidate, whose full name is Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, is on trial in Oklahoma City federal court. He is 56 and faces more than 20 years in prison if convicted.
He is accused of paying a zoo worker $3,000 in November 2017 to kill Carole Baskin, the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Tampa. He also is accused of offering the FBI agent $10,000 on Dec. 8, 2017, to kill her. He claims he was framed in the first instance and was not serious in the second.
The agent told jurors he talked with the defendant in a cluttered office at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. The meeting was set up by tiger owner James Garretson who had become a confidential informant for the government.
"He agreed that I would commit a murder for hire for him," the agent testified.
In the recording, Joe Exotic brought up his gubernatorial campaign when the agent told him he would need to be seen out in public at the time of the murder. The agent promised to call from a burner phone from Florida and tell him "today is the day."
The big cat breeder described Baskin as evil and said she was trying "to bankrupt us." Baskin is an outspoken critic of Joe Exotic and other roadside zoo operators who allow visitors to have "play times" with tiger cubs. Her Big Cat Rescue successfully sued him for more than $1 million for trademark infringement and other civil wrongs and she has been trying to collect the judgments for years.
The agent offered more than once to make Baskin disappear.
"I mean we can," Joe Exotic said. "The b---- has just got to go away. Got to go away."
The agent came up with the price of $10,000. During a discussion about payment, the agent asked, "What do you think you could get up front?"
"Oh, we can get five easy," Joe Exotic replied.
"That’s perfect man. That’d be perfect," the agent said.
Joe Exotic said he would sell some of his tigers to pay the rest. He also talked of buying the murder weapon from a flea market in Sulphur.
In response to defense questions Thursday, the agent acknowledged he never spoke to Joe Exotic again, never got a gun from him, never got any burner phones and never got the down payment.
The agent also acknowledged that their conversation went off into tangents, like politics and Joe Exotic's upcoming marriage only two months after his last husband died in an accident. The agent disputed a defense suggestion that proved the defendant wasn't serious.
The agent was the last prosecution witness. The jury could begin deliberating as early as Monday after hearing from defense witnesses. The judge will decide punishment later if the defendant is found guilty.