The owner of a roadside zoo in Oklahoma phoned a local newsroom on Thursday and admitted to the killing of five endangered tigers.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a 55 year-old man who goes by “Joe Exotic,” called KOCO 5 hours after a federal grand jury charged him with 19 wildlife crimes on top of two previous murder-for-hire counts. The zookeeper is currently jailed for allegedly seeking a hit on the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin, with whom he’d feuded over his “mistreatment” and “exploitation” of animals.
“I put five tigers to sleep because they were in pain,” Maldonado-Passage told KOCO 5. “They were in pain. They had toenails coming out of their ankles. They had no teeth. They had exposed root canals.”
Maldonado-Passage said he wanted to clarify the superseding indictment filed against him on Thursday in the Western District of Oklahoma.
“I thought it was more humane and more faster than 20 minutes of seizures,” he added. “I have to shoot a horse or a cow every day that somebody brings me. Obviously it's hard.”
The bizarre event is one of many surrounding the local personality and owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.
In September, Maldonado-Passage was arrested and charged with “hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder ‘Jane Doe’ in Florida,” paying them $3,000 for the job, according to a Department of Justice release.
A separate indictment claimed that in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage asked another person “to find someone to murder Jane Doe in exchange for money.” Unbeknownst to him, Maldonado-Passage was connected with an undercover FBI agent, with whom he discussed the plan on December 8, 2017.
The identity of “Jane Doe” was never released, but days later Baskin claimed to be the target.
“It is important to understand that this is not the isolated act of one crazy bad apple,” Baskin said in a statement at the time.
Baskin referenced a video filmed by Maldonado-Passage, in which he shoots an effigy of her in the head.
“Carole Baskin better never, ever, ever see me face to face,” Maldonado-Passage says to the camera before shooting the doll. “Ever, ever, ever again.”
Baskin and Big Cat Rescue called Maldonado-Passage’s business “one of the most notorious cub petting roadside zoos in the country.”
The organization protested a show that Maldonado-Passage toured throughout malls in the US. In retaliation, the zookeeper renamed his organization “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment,” causing Big Cat Rescue to sue in 2011 for violating its intellectual property rights. In 2013, Baskin received a $1 million judgment against Maldonado-Passage.
Baskin also archived Facebook conversations in which exotic pet owners and other roadside zoo proprietors defended Maldonado-Passage’s threats of violence.
“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,” Maldonado-Passage said in another video. “And before you bring me down, it is my belief that you will stop breathing.”
The zookeeper announced in 2016 in a series of YouTube videos that he was running for US president.
“First thing is, I am not cutting my hair,” he said in one of these videos. “I am not changing the way I dress. I refuse to wear a suit. I am gay. I’ve had two boyfriends most of my life. I currently got legally married, thank God it’s finally legal in America. I’ve had some kinky sex. I have tried drugs through my younger years of my life. I am broke as shit. I have a judgment against me from some bitch down in Florida.”
Thursday’s additional indictments claim that Maldonado-Passage violated the Lacey Act, a federal law that protects wildlife and regulates the import of species protected by international or US law. According to a statement from the Department of Justice, Maldonado-Passage falsified records of sale for tigers, lions—including a two week-old lion cub—and a baby lemur.
Prosecutors also claim that Maldonado-Passage violated the Endangered Species Act by shooting and killing five tigers to, as prosecutors said, “make room for cage space for other big cats.” And also by selling and offering to sell tiger cubs in interstate commerce.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said:
If convicted of a violation of the Endangered Species Act, he could be sentenced on each count to one year in prison, a fine of $100,000, and one year of supervised release. Each Lacey Act violation could carry a prison term of five years, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.
When KOCO 5 asked Maldonado-Passage about these charges, he said “depends on what you'd call endangered.”