Joe Exotic calls new charges of wildlife trafficking, tiger slayings a ‘witch hunt’

Joe Exotic now faces multiple counts of wildlife trafficking and violating the federal Endangered Species Act.

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Joseph Maldonado-Passage

Joe Exotic used his roadside exotic animal park to illegally sell lions and tigers and allegedly shot and killed five tigers when he needed to free up cage space at the zoo, according to a new indictment filed Wednesday in federal court.

In an email from jail to The Frontier, Maldonado-Passage said the new charges are part of an ongoing effort to frame him.

“This is now a witch hunt,” Maldonado-Passage said in the email.

The superseding indictment accuses Joseph Maldonado-Passage, 55, of multiple counts of wildlife trafficking and violating the federal Endangered Species Act.

It’s illegal to hunt, kill or sell lions and tigers in the United States under the Endangered Species Act.

Maldonado-Passage allegedly sold tigers and lions to other roadside zoos and private owners across the United States, according to the indictment. Most of the animals he is accused of selling were cubs, less  than a year old, but some were fully grown.

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The indictment accuses Maldonado-Passage of falsifying records for some of the animal sales, claiming on inspection forms that the animals were only being transported for exhibition at other zoos, or that the animals were donations.

At one time, Maldonado-Passage housed more than 200 big cats at his former zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in south-central Oklahoma.

By comparison, there are an estimated 239 Bengal tigers now living in the wild in Nepal, up from about 120 in 2009.

Maldonado-Passage has been in federal custody since September after a federal grand jury indicted him on two counts of attempting to hire hitmen to murder the founder of a Florida animal refuge.

Carole Baskin, CEO of the wildlife refuge Big Cat Rescue, contends she was the target of the murder-for hire plot after a years-long legal feud with Maldonado-Passage. In a jailhouse interview after his arrest, Maldonado-Passage told The Frontier that he had been “set up.”

If convicted., Maldonado-Passage, 55, could face decades of prison time. He is charged with two counts of murder-for hire — counts which carry a maximum 10 year sentence each.

Each of the wildlife trafficking counts he faces carries a maximum five year sentence. Maldonado-Passage also faces eight counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, with a maximum 1 year in prison each.

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Brianna Bailey

Brianna Bailey grew up in Idaho. Oklahoma is her adopted home. Bailey has covered issues ranging from Oklahoma's strained child welfare system to the slow decline of Oklahoma's rural hospitals. She has walked all the way across Oklahoma City twice, once north-to south via Western Avenue and once via the old U.S. Route 66. Her hobbies are baking and crashing meetings she isn't invited to attend. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The University of Oklahoma. Email her at brianna@readfrontier.com
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