‘Joe Exotic’ sentenced to 22 years on murder-for-hire, wildlife crimes

Ponca City Now - January 22, 2020 2:02 pm

OKLAHOMA CITY – Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado, Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, and “Joe Exotic,” 56, formerly of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, has been sentenced to 22 years in prison after a federal jury convicted him of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records, and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act, announced U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Downing.

“We are thankful for the Court’s thoughtful consideration of the gravity of this murder-for-hire scheme, as well as the defendant’s egregious wildlife crimes in imposing a 22-year sentence,” said U.S. Attorney Downing.  “This sentence is the result of countless hours of detailed investigative work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

“Wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity such as fraud, narcotics, money-laundering and smuggling. Mr. Maldonado-Passage added murder-for-hire,” said Edward Grace, Assistant Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “The Service, along with our partners, will continue to bring to justice those involved in wildlife trafficking and other assorted crimes. The successful outcome of this investigation is the result of working jointly with the U. S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Oklahoma, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation to ensure the protection of a federally protected species.”

“Today’s sentencing of Joseph Maldonado-Passage should serve as a reminder that the FBI and our law enforcement partners will not tolerate those who orchestrate murder-for-hire or violate U.S. wildlife laws,” said Special Agent in Charge Melissa Godbold of the FBI’s Oklahoma City Field Office.  “The FBI would like to thank our partners for their efforts on this joint investigation.”

On Sept. 5, 2018, a federal grand jury returned an indictment that accused Maldonado-Passage of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder “Jane Doe” in Florida and also hiring a person who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent to commit that murder.  A superseding indictment handed down on Nov. 7, 2018, further alleged Maldonado-Passage falsified forms involving the sale of wildlife in interstate commerce, killed five tigers in October 2017 to make room for cage space for other big cats, and sold and offered to sell tiger cubs in interstate commerce.  Because tigers are an endangered species, these alleged killings and sales violated the Endangered Species Act.

During a trial that began on March 25, a jury heard evidence that Maldonado-Passage gave Allen Glover $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to murder Carole Baskin, with a promise to pay thousands more after the deed.  Baskin, a critic of Maldonado-Passage’s animal park, owns a tiger sanctuary in Florida and had secured a million-dollar judgment against Maldonado-Passage.

The evidence further showed that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly sought someone to murder Baskin in exchange for money, which led to his meeting with an undercover FBI agent on Dec. 8, 2017.  The jury heard a recording of his meeting with the agent to discuss details of the planned murder.

In addition to the murder-for-hire counts, the trial included evidence of violations of the Lacey Act, which makes it a crime to falsify records of wildlife transactions in interstate commerce.  According to these counts, Maldonado-Passage designated on delivery forms and Certificates of Veterinary Inspection that tigers, lions, and a baby lemur were being donated to the recipient or transported for exhibition only, when he knew they were being sold in interstate commerce.

Finally, the jury heard evidence that Maldonado-Passage personally shot and killed five tigers in October 2017, without a veterinarian present and in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

After only a few hours of deliberation, the jury returned guilty verdicts on both murder-for-hire counts, eight Lacey Act counts, and nine Endangered Species Act counts.

On Jan. 22, 2020, U.S. District Judge Scott L. Palk sentenced Maldonado-Passage to 264 months in federal prison.  That sentence includes (1) 108 months on each of the two murder-for-hire counts to run consecutively to each other, (2) 12 months on each of the Endangered Species Act violations to run concurrently to each other and to all other counts, and (3) 48 months on each of the Lacey Act violations to run concurrently with each other but consecutive to the two murder-for-hire counts.  Judge Palk also ordered Maldonado-Passage to spend three years of supervised release upon release from prison.

In announcing the sentence, the Court noted the seriousness of Maldonado-Passage’s conduct and his reluctance to accept responsibility.

This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amanda Green and Charles W. Brown prosecuted the case.

 

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