'Joe Exotic' charged with murder-for-hire - KTEN.com - Texoma news, weather and sports

'Joe Exotic' charged with murder-for-hire

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Joseph Maldonado-Passage was booked on September 7, 2018. (Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office) Joseph Maldonado-Passage was booked on September 7, 2018. (Santa Rosa County Sheriff's Office)
Joe "Joe Exotic" Maldonado-Passage speaking to KTEN in January 2016. (KTEN) Joe "Joe Exotic" Maldonado-Passage speaking to KTEN in January 2016. (KTEN)

WYNNEWOOD, Okla. -- Federal prosecutors say a zookeeper at Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park who also ran for Oklahoma governor earlier this year has been charged in a murder-for-hire scheme alleging he tried to hire someone to kill a Florida woman who runs another exotic animal sanctuary.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Oklahoma City announced Friday that 55-year-old Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as "Joe Exotic," was indicted on two counts of hiring a person to commit murder. He was arrested by U.S. Marshals Friday in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

Tampa-based Big Cat Rescue said its CEO, Carole Baskin, had been his target.

"Maldonado had made threats online over a period of years, including a video of him shooting in the head a blow up doll dressed to look like Carole and an image hanging her in effigy," the Florida organization said in a written statement.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment earlier this week, accusing Maldonado-Passage of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder an unidentified woman in Florida for $3,000. The indictment alleges Maldonado-Passage had the person travel to Dallas to obtain fake identification for use in the plot.

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.

Carole Baskin was not harmed.

Big Cat Rescue alleged that Maldonado-Passage held a long grudge against the organization after it won a $1 million judgment against him for violating its intellectual property. "Litigation to collect on the judgment has been ongoing since then in Oklahoma," Big Cat Rescue said. "Maldonado ran, in our view, one of the most notorious cub petting roadside zoos in the country in Wynnewood."

Court records don't list an attorney for Maldonado-Passage, who didn't immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

According to officials, the suspect will make his initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate judge in the Northern District of Florida. That will be followed by further proceedings in the Western District of Oklahoma.

If Maldonado-Passage is found guilty, he could be imprisoned on each count up to ten years.

Maldonado-Passage finished third in a three-way Libertarian primary in June.

In January, he was hospitalized after being involved in a two-vehicle accident in Garvin County.

Last October, the husband of Maldonado-Passage shot and killed himself in the zoo's gift shop.

KTEN.com editor Walt Zwirko and the Associated Press contributed to this report

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