Joseph Maldonado-Passage

His blonde mullet looking worse-for wear, Joseph Maldonado-Passage pleaded not guilty to murder-for hire charges in federal court Thursday.

Joe Exotic looked thin and tired as he looked out over the crowd of mostly Oklahoma City TV news reporters gathered to see his first court appearance since being charged in an alleged scheme to kill a Florida wildlife conservationist.

The federal government contends Maldonado-Passage is a danger to the public, a flight risk and should be held in federal custody while awaiting trial.

After meeting briefly with his court-appointed attorney before the hearing Thursday, Maldonado-Passage requested a detention hearing where the court will determine whether he can be released on bond. He is being held in the interim at the Grady County Law Enforcement Center in Chickasha.

A federal grand jury has indicted Maldonado-Passage on two counts of twice attempting to hire hitmen to murder an unnamed Florida woman.

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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 earlier this month, Maldonado-Passage told The Frontier that he had been “set up.”

Jeff Lowe, the current owner of Maldonado-Passage’s former zoo, Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, said in a Facebook post Thursday that park would close and reopen in a new location near the Oklahoma-Texas border in Thackerville in 2019.

“We think it’s best to let this zoo, die with Joe’s conviction and not make the next generation of animals to live here, forever suffer his outrageous behavior and reputation,” Lowe said in the Facebook post. “There is SO MUCH MORE to be revealed about Joe and his crimes against animals and we don’t want to be associated with him any longer.”

Cat fight: Joe Exotic says he was framed