Records: Big Cat Rescue CEO target of murder-for-hire plot

- A well-known zookeeper who ran for governor in Oklahoma has been indicted for an alleged murder-for-hire plot against the CEO of Tampa's Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin.

Baskin was not injured in the alleged plot thanks to a tip made to the FBI.

According to federal court filings in the Western District of Oklahoma, Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado-Passage, aka “Joe Exotic,” has been charged with two counts of murder-for-hire, which, if he's convicted, could hold a 10-year sentence, per count.

The charges come two years after Maldonado-Passage first tried to hire someone to kill Baskin.

In July 2016, he "repeatedly asked" an unnamed person to find someone who would kill Baskin in exchange for money, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office that filed the charges.

Later, in November 2017, he allegedly approached another person with a similar proposition. That person put Maldonado-Passage in touch with an undercover agent from the FBI.

Maldonado-Passage allegedly paid $3,000 for the murder to take place and agreed to "pay thousands more after the deed."

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement and the FBI worked with the U.S. Marshals Service to investigate the case and this week, marshals arrested Maldonado-Passage in Gulf Breeze, Florida.

A release from the Big Cat Rescue advisory board chairman, Howard Baskin said Maldonado-Passage had been making online threats to Carole for years. Baskin said a video of Moldonado shooting an inflatable doll, apparently dressed to resemble Carole, had been published online, as well.

“A significant part of our mission has been to stop mistreatment and exploitation big cats at roadside zoos, particularly those who rip tiger cubs from their mothers at birth to charge the public to pet and take photos with them," Carole Baskin said in a statement. "Because Big Cat Rescue has been a leader in working to stop what we view as abuse of big cats and been very effective in our work, I have received multiple death threats over the years, including at one point a number of snakes placed in my mailbox. According to the FBI, animal abuse is highly correlated with human-to-human violence.”

Maldonado-Passage will make his initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge today in the Pensacola Division of the Northern District of Florida, followed by further proceedings in the Western District of Oklahoma.

In addition to possible jail time, Maldonado-Passage could also be subject to up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 per count.

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