OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A former Oklahoma zookeeper and one-time candidate for governor was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws.
A federal judge in Oklahoma City sentenced 56-year-old Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage — who is also known as “Joe Exotic” — for trying to arrange the killing of a Florida animal sanctuary founder who criticized his treatment of animals. The woman, Carole Baskin, wasn’t harmed.
Maldonado, who maintained his innocence, also was sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records. A jury convicted him last April.
“I still maintain my innocence and looking forward in the upcoming days to my attorneys filing my appeal and moving onto the next step in this nightmare,” he said in a statement posted to his Facebook page.
Maldonado-Passage’s attorneys had argued for lenience, noting he had no previous criminal convictions and that because of his poor health, a sentence within the advisory guidelines would amount to a life sentence. Prosecutors were satisfied with the sentence.
“We are thankful for the Court’s thoughtful consideration of the gravity of this murder-for-hire scheme, as well as the defendant’s egregious wildlife crimes in imposing a 22-year sentence,” U.S. Attorney Tim Downing said in a statement.
During last year’s trial, a jury heard evidence that Maldonado-Passage paid a man $3,000 to travel to Florida and kill Baskin, with a promise to pay more after she was dead. Maldonado-Passage was upset that Baskin, an outspoken critic of his, had won a million-dollar civil judgment against him.
After his initial attempt failed, prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage offered $10,000 to an undercover FBI agent to kill Baskin during a meeting that was recorded and played for the jury. In the recording, he told the agent, “Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off.”
Baskin released this statement following Maldonado’s sentencing:
The conviction of Mr. Schreibvogel Maldonado Passage was made based upon only a handful of vivid examples of his malicious intent to murder me. The prosecution didn’t need to present the daily barrage of threats to harm, rape or kill me that were my daily experience for the past ten years.
The evidence showed that over the course of many years, he has tried to coerce others into killing me, and in the end, resorted to hiring others to kill me. If he had succeeded in carrying out his murderous plan, you might be calculating now, what the value of my life had been. It’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m able to stand before you today, and ask you to consider all that he was able to take from me.
Because of his constant threats to kill me, I have found myself seeing every bystander as a potential threat. There is no where that I have felt safe, and worse, no way that I feel I can safeguard those around me. So many of his threats involved blowing me up, so that he could thrill over seeing me burn to death. Even from jail he gleefully talks about the prospect of me dying a fiery death. Anyone near me; my daughter, my husband, my mother, my staff and volunteers have all been in peril because of his obsession with seeing me dead. I live with the guilt associated with the danger, that my mere presence brings to each of them.
There are two important things the court might not know from the trial. The first is important because I believe Mr. Schreibvogel Maldonado Passage will claim ill health to minimize his sentence. In the 15 years I’ve known him he’s claimed to be dying of cancer, TB, renal failure and other trending illnesses. He’s alternated that with claims of being crippled and has feigned suicide attempts in order to manipulate others to his will. The second thing is that over the years numerous people who worked at his zoo contacted us, after they left the zoo and told us that every single day he would rant about me. They all characterized him as obsessed.
As you consider his sentence, I would just like you to take into account that if this vicious, obsessed man is ever released from jail, my life and my family’s lives, will return to what it was like during the decade leading up to his arrest. If he completes his sentence and is released, we will end up spending the rest of our lives, constantly looking over our shoulders, for a threat to our lives. I hope you will give us as many years free of that threat as you can. Thank you.Carole Baskin
Known for his blonde mullet and expletive-laden rants on YouTube, Maldonado-Passage appeared on John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” when he was a 2016 write-in candidate for president. The next year, he announced his candidacy as a Libertarian candidate for Oklahoma governor, ultimately finishing third in a three-way primary. During the campaign, his 23-year-old husband, Travis Moldonado, died after authorities say he accidentally fatally shot himself in the head. Garvin County Sheriff Larry Rhodes said at the time that witnesses reported Moldonado put a loaded firearm to his head and pulled the trigger to prove the weapon would not fire with the magazine removed.