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Tiger Zookeeper Gets 22 Years for Murder Plot

He tried to hire undercover FBI agent to kill animal sanctuary founder
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 23, 2020 4:44 AM CST
This photo provided by the Santa Rose County Jail in Milton, Fla., shows Joseph Maldonado-Passage.   (Santa Rosa County Jail via AP, File)

(Newser) – 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-Passage, who maintained his innocence, also was sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs, and falsifying wildlife records, the AP reports. A jury convicted him last April.

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. 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."

(Read more zookeeper stories.)

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