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Joe Exotic found guilty in murder-for-hire case

In his 56 years of life, Joe Exotic has gone by a lot of different names and done a lot of different things.

The Tiger King has been a zookeeper, a big cat breeder, a presidential candidate, a gubernatorial candidate, a nursing home aide and — according to him — even a police chief.

On Tuesday, he became a convicted felon.

His jury took less than four hours Tuesday to find him guilty on all 19 counts. He showed no reaction as U.S. District Judge Scott Palk read the verdict in Oklahoma City federal court.

The 12 jurors unanimously agreed he twice hired someone to kill a Florida animal sanctuary operator whose nonprofit organization successfully sued him for more than $1 million for trademark infringement and other civil wrongs.

"I am grateful justice was served," his intended victim, Carole Baskin, said after the verdict.

Jurors unanimously agreed he also illegally killed five tigers with a shotgun, illegally offered to sell and sold tiger cubs and falsified documents involving the sale of tigers, lions and a baby lemur.

He faces up to 20 years in prison and $500,000 in fines on the two murder-for-hire counts alone. The judge will decide his punishment later this year.

Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, said he "hopefully will serve time in prison and no longer present a threat either to me or to his former big cats."

Joe Exotic in 1999 founded a private zoo in Wynnewood where he bred tigers, lions and tiger-lions hybrid and allowed the public to have "play times" with tigers cubs for an extra charge. He sold the zoo in 2016 but was left in charge of day-to-day operations.

In testimony Monday in his own defense, he told jurors the zoo's new owner, Jeff Lowe, set him up in 2017 to get rid of him for good. "These murder-for-hire allegations were manufactured," defense attorney, Bill Earley, said in a closing argument Tuesday.

The key evidence against him, though, were his own words.

Prosecutors put into evidence recordings of his conversation with a government informant about having a zoo worker do the killing. In a Nov. 7, 2017, phone conversation, he discussed details of the plan and said, "As long as he don't get caught red-handed, I think we got this."

The zoo worker, Allen Glover, testified Joe Exotic paid him $3,000 in cash for the killing, had him get a fake ID in Dallas and gave him a cellphone with Baskin's photo on it. Glover, a convicted felon, said he just took the money and partied on a beach in Florida instead.

Prosecutors also put into evidence Joe Exotic's 47-minute conversation on Dec. 8, 2017, at the zoo with an undercover FBI agent posing as a hit man. He offered to pay the agent $5,000 down to make Baskin go away and $5,000 more when it was on the news. "Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off," he said in the recording.

"Here's the problem with kings," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Green said in her closing argument Tuesday. "They start to believe they are above the law."

She replayed for jurors Tuesday part of Joe Exotic's phone conversation with former boyfriend, John Finlay, after his arrest last September in Gulf Breeze, Florida. In the conversation, Joe Exotic expressed shock when Finlay revealed he told the FBI he drove Glover to Dallas to get the fake ID for the Florida trip.

"Oh, so, so, you hung me out to dry? Huh?" he said.

Again, Green told jurors Tuesday, Joe Exotic's mouth "became his own worst enemy."

He faced 21 counts when the trial started. Prosecutors dropped two false document counts Friday.

Lowe, who is relocating the zoo to near Thackerville, called the verdict "justice for the animals." Lowe said Joe Exotic has committed other crimes including embezzling $88,877 in zoo funds to pay personal and campaign expenses.

Joe Exotic ran for president in 2016 as an independent. He ran for governor in Oklahoma in 2018 as a Libertarian. Last June, he was forced to leave the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park by Lowe.

About his names, he said he was born Joseph Schreibvogel. He went by the name Joseph Maldonado after marrying husband Travis Maldonado. He went by the name Joseph Maldonado-Passage after Travis died in 2017 and he married Dillon Jacob Passage two months later. He was referred to in trial most often as Mr. Passage.

He also has gone by the nicknames the Tiger King and Joe Exotic.

The president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said Tuesday "Joe Exotic has been on PETA's radar for years as a notorious animal abuser and as the primary supplier of big cat cubs for the cruel cub-petting industry."

"The world will be a safer place for all living beings with this man behind bars, where he can no longer harm animals or the animal advocates he hanged in effigy," PETA President Ingrid Newkirk said.

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<strong>Joe Exotic</strong>

Joe Exotic

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-f5d7231fe21bb0f74d169451fe5fca2e.jpg" alt="Photo - Joe Exotic " title=" Joe Exotic "><figcaption> Joe Exotic </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8a21f72330d088f9fc878f39b780e75f.jpg" alt="Photo - Baskin " title=" Baskin "><figcaption> Baskin </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-eb8f1c819033a9daa0c7cb314e2694bd.jpg" alt="Photo - FILE - This file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage, also known as &quot;Joe Exotic, tried to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue. Lurors were shown a Facebook video Tuesday, March 26, 2019, that depicts Maldonado-Passage shooting a blow-up &quot;Carole&quot; doll in the head. Other videos show him pretending to dig a grave for Baskin and threatening to mail her rattlesnakes. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)" title="FILE - This file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage, also known as &quot;Joe Exotic, tried to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue. Lurors were shown a Facebook video Tuesday, March 26, 2019, that depicts Maldonado-Passage shooting a blow-up &quot;Carole&quot; doll in the head. Other videos show him pretending to dig a grave for Baskin and threatening to mail her rattlesnakes. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)"><figcaption>FILE - This file photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage. Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage, also known as &quot;Joe Exotic, tried to arrange the killing of Carole Baskin, the founder of Big Cat Rescue. Lurors were shown a Facebook video Tuesday, March 26, 2019, that depicts Maldonado-Passage shooting a blow-up &quot;Carole&quot; doll in the head. Other videos show him pretending to dig a grave for Baskin and threatening to mail her rattlesnakes. (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d62ad00a927152b0f13cf3cf5d09c5cc.jpg" alt="Photo - Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate, Joseph Maldonado, known as &quot;Joe Exotic, waves from the top of a limousine during Norman's Christmas Parade Saturday. [WHITNEY BRYEN, FOR THE OKLAHOMAN] photo by Whitney Bryen" title="Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate, Joseph Maldonado, known as &quot;Joe Exotic, waves from the top of a limousine during Norman's Christmas Parade Saturday. [WHITNEY BRYEN, FOR THE OKLAHOMAN] photo by Whitney Bryen"><figcaption>Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate, Joseph Maldonado, known as &quot;Joe Exotic, waves from the top of a limousine during Norman's Christmas Parade Saturday. [WHITNEY BRYEN, FOR THE OKLAHOMAN] photo by Whitney Bryen</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-7d69c330125720ce06cbfee680972193.jpg" alt="Photo - Joe Maldonado works with Boco, the male Li-Liger at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman" title="Joe Maldonado works with Boco, the male Li-Liger at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Joe Maldonado works with Boco, the male Li-Liger at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-51005f046623370fc00de0b817ce08f9.jpg" alt="Photo - Joe Maldonado works with Boco, the male Li-Liger at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman" title="Joe Maldonado works with Boco, the male Li-Liger at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Joe Maldonado works with Boco, the male Li-Liger at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-9ef0379f4d69444d26f77fdb5960b5ae.jpg" alt="Photo - Joe Maldonado talks about animals and the government at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman" title="Joe Maldonado talks about animals and the government at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Joe Maldonado talks about animals and the government at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-756d18490bcdaaa88dcd0efcae844b65.jpg" alt="Photo - Joe Maldonado talks about animals and the government at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman" title="Joe Maldonado talks about animals and the government at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman"><figcaption>Joe Maldonado talks about animals and the government at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park on Thursday, Dec. 1, 2016 in Wynnewood, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d02d1f566383f8202e9f5972c16e578d.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure>
Nolan Clay

Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,... Read more ›

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