Accused of hiring hit man to bump off Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin
TAMPA, Florida––“Joe Exotic,” 55, allegedly thought he could get away with murder.
Also known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, Joseph Allen Maldonado, and Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, “Joe Exotic” was on September 7, 2018 indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to kill an individual identified in the indictment only as “Jane Doe,” the U.S. Department of Justice announced.
Roadside zoo operator
Arrested in Gulf Breeze, Florida, “Joe Exotic” is best known as operator of the notoriously substandard Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. The facility has also been known by a variety of other names, including GW’s Exotic Animal Park and the GW Zoo.
“He will make his initial appearance before a U.S. Magistrate Judge in the Pensacola Division of the Northern District of Florida, followed by further proceedings in the Western District of Oklahoma,” summarized KOCO-5 television news in Oklahoma City.
$3,000 down payment
“According to the indictment,” KOCO-5 continued, “Maldonado-Passage gave the unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to carry out the murder. He allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed.
“The indictment alleges Maldonado-Passage caused the person to travel to Dallas to get fake identification for use in the plot,” KOCO-5 added. “According to the indictment, the person traveled from Oklahoma to South Carolina,” in connection with the alleged plot, on November 26, 2017.
Sought hit man for over a year
“In a second count,” KOCO-5 said, “the indictment alleges that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a different unnamed person to find someone to murder Jane Doe in exchange for money. The second person put Maldonado-Passage in contact with an undercover FBI agent. Maldonado-Passage met with the undercover agent on December 8, 2017, to discuss details of murdering ‘Jane Doe,’ according to officials with the justice department.”
“Joe Exotic,” if convicted as charged, could be imprisoned on each count of the indictment for up to ten years, and would then be subject to up to three years of supervised release. “Joe Exotic” could also be fined up to $250,000 on each count.
Baskin confirms she was target
Big Cat Rescue, of Tampa, Florida, almost immediately confirmed that the “Jane Doe” of the indictment was Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, who has for more than a decade pursued a variety of charges against “Joe Exotic” for alleged violations of the U.S. Animal Welfare Act, trademark law, and other state and federal legislation.
“Joe Exotic,” also known as Joseph Maldonado, “made threats online [against Baskin] over a period of years, including a video of him shooting in the head a blow up doll dressed to look like Carole and an image [of him] hanging her in effigy,” Big Cat Rescue posted to Facebook.
“Joe Exotic” hanged an effigy labeled “PETA” as part of the same incident, according to PETA staff writer Michelle Kretzer.
“Not isolated act”
Commented Baskin herself in a videotaped statement, “It is important to understand that this is not the isolated act of one crazy bad apple. A significant part of our mission has been to stop mistreatment and exploitation of 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.
“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,” Baskin said, “I have received multiple death threats over the years, including at one point a number of snakes placed in my mailbox.
“Big Cat Rescue Entertainment”
“Maldonado ran, in our view,” Baskin continued, “one of the most notorious cub-petting roadside zoos in the country. Years ago he also operated a traveling exhibit that would bring cubs to malls throughout the Midwest and Southwest. When Big Cat Rescue educated the malls about the miserable life this created for the cubs and the malls started cancelling Maldonado’s traveling exhibit,” Baskin charged, “Maldonado retaliated by renaming his traveling show ‘Big Cat Rescue Entertainment’ in order to confuse the public into thinking the show was operated by Big Cat Rescue.
“In 2011,” Baskin recounted, “Big Cat Rescue sued for violations of its intellectual property rights and in 2013 was granted a consent judgment for over $1 million. Litigation to collect on the judgment has been ongoing since then in Oklahoma.
“We are enormously grateful,” Baskin concluded, “to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma, and the U.S. Marshall’s Service for the many months of incredibly hard work that went into this investigation and arrest.”
Ran for president & governor
KOCO-5 noted that “Maldonado-Passage was a Libertarian gubernatorial candidate during Oklahoma’s  primary elections,” following an abortive run for U.S. President on the Oklahoma state ballot in 2016.
A video announcing his presidential candidacy emphasized that he was openly gay, broke, and had a history of drug use.
“You may have seen him in the news before,” reported Sarah Stewart for KFOR-TV of Oklahoma City in November 2015, after “Joe Exotic” filed his intent-to-run-for-president documents with the Federal Election Commission.
“His name used to be Joe Schreibvogel, but he recently got married and took his husband’s name.”
Claimed to have been a police chief
Stewart said she “caught up with Maldonado and his husband,” the late Travis Maldonado, at Will Rogers World Airport as they were flying out to Ohio” to attend a Donald Trump rally.
“Although he’s never held public office,” Stewart observed, “he says he’s always been involved in politics and was a police chief at one point in time.”
Baskin’s husband, attorney Howard Baskin, in 2011 investigated the claim that “Joe Exotic” was ever a police chief, or even a police officer.
“Joe says he is a former police chief in Colony, Texas,” Howard Baskin summarized.
“The Colony website,” Howard Baskin found, “contains the list of past and present police chiefs,” six in all at that time, none of whom were “Joe Exotic.”
“The policeman we spoke with by phone at The Colony police department advised that Joe Schreibvogel was never an officer there,” Howard Baskin wrote.
Never a rock star, either
“Joe Exotic” was also never a rock star, or indeed a singing star of any sort, but he has posed as such.
“It is hard to imagine how anyone who hears his nasal speaking voice could believe that the voice on the songs [“Joe Exotic” claims to have recorded] is really his,” Carole Baskin posted to Facebook on January 18, 2018, about two months after “Joe Exotic” allegedly hired someone to kill her.
“Informant information,” Carole Baskin said, “indicates he has paid singer Vince Johnson to sing some if not all of the songs. Then Joe makes a video lip syncing the song and claims it is him singing.”
Partner shot himself
Carole Baskin had a bit more to say about that after Travis Maldonado, 23, on October 6, 2017 shot himself at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, as the controversial facility had come to be known.
Elaborated The Oklahoman, “Travis Maldonado had a marijuana-smoking pipe in his pants pocket and a small amount of marijuana on him when he apparently shot himself in the head. Witnesses told sheriff’s detectives that Travis Maldonado took the magazine out of a gun and held the barrel to his head. He knew there was a bullet in the chamber, but Travis Maldonado said it would not fire without the magazine. He then squeezed the trigger, Rhodes said. The gun fired.”
“Disrespects deceased husband”
“Bad enough he lies to his supporters, making them think he sings in music videos,” Carole Baskin charged, “but on top of that he disrespects his deceased husband by lying about singing a song about him. Joe has been milking that for all the sympathy he can get by claiming he spent three hours recording a song about Travis and showing a photo that appears to have Joe wiping away tears as he presumably fake-sings a song he will have Johnson or someone else sing. Meanwhile, there are six new serious USDA violations at his zoo.”
The alleged “hit” plot against Carole Baskin began before Travis Maldonado shot himself, but “Joe Exotic” allegedly hired a hit man soon afterward, months before the intended victim made her public comments about the “Joe Exotic” song in Travis Maldonado’s memory.
“Joe Exotic” had already had a difficult year.
A nine-member coalition of animal advocacy organizations, including Big Cat Rescue and headed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, on May 19, 2017 formally petitioned the USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service to make breeding either white tigers or lion/tiger hybrids a violation of both the Animal Health Protection Act of 2002 and the Animal Welfare Act of 1966.
The petition targeted “Joe Exotic,” among others.
“In Oklahoma,” the petition stated, “exhibitor Joe Schreibvogel,” also known as Joseph Maldonado, “sells white tigers, ligers, liligers, and tiligers to private owners and exhibitors all over the country. Transfer records show that just between May 2015 and September 2015, he sold three white tigers and three tiligers, as well as a liger, who went to a private owner named Angela Bazzell in Rockwall, Texas, on August 22, 2015 for $6,800. While the paperwork says that the purpose of the transfer was for ‘feeding,’ Bazzell’s September 4, 2015, Facebook post and associated comments indicate that after purchasing the liger, she almost immediately placed the cat at another facility in Texas.
Claimed bankruptcy after losing trademark case
That was just the most recent of many legal skirmishes between the Baskins and “Joe Exotic” preceding his alleged attempt to hire a hit man. The Baskins’ trademark violation case could have put “Joe Exotic” out of the wildlife exhibition business, had they ever been able to collect a federal court judgement against him.
Instead, reported Andrew Knittle of The Oklahoman, “Just six weeks after a federal judge ordered ‘Joe Exotic’ to pay [Big Cat Rescue] more than $1 million, ‘Joe Exotic’ filed for bankruptcy protection. Joe Schreibvogel, who also goes by the names Aarron Alex and Cody Ryan,” not mentioned in the federal solicitation-of-murder-for-hired indictment, “lists debts totaling $1.2 million, most of which are traceable to the judgment handed down by a judge in Florida.
43 tigers & five black bears
“Schreibvogel, who operated what is now the G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood from the late 1990s until February 2013,” when the business name changed, “in court records lists assets of $127,739,” Knittle continued. “Roughly half of that total is in the form of vehicles used to run the animal park. Schreibvogel lists 43 tigers and five black bears as personal property. Records show the carnivores,” whom the Baskins told ANIMALS 24-7 they would house if the Wynnewood zoo signed them over, “are worth an ‘unknown’ sum of money. Schreibvogel also owes more than $30,000 to attorneys who worked on the trademark infringement case, records show.
Concluded Knittle, “An affidavit signed by Schreibvogel and filed in federal court states he ‘became unemployed on Feb. 26, 2013, and I am not receiving any monthly income.’”
Dade City’s Wild Things
But despite that lack of “monthly income,” Schreibvogel in July 2017 helped another longtime alleged wildlife exhibition scofflaw and target of exposés by the Baskins, Kathy Stearns of Dade City’s Wild Things, to evade a court order won by PETA allowing PETA wildlife experts to inspect the care and housing of 22 tigers.
The Baskins had been critical of Dade City’s Wild Things practically since it opened in 2007, during which time it was cited more than 40 times for alleged Animal Welfare Act violations, and continued to offer a swim-with-tigers attraction while appealing an administrative judge’s order to stop it, as a hazard to both the humans and the tigers involved.
Tigers moved in defiance of court order
Summarized Tampa Bay Times staff writer Tracey McManus, “PETA sued Wild Things in October 2016, alleging its tiger cub encounter program, in which visitors can pay to cuddle or swim with weeks-old cubs, violates the Endangered Species Act. On Friday, a federal judge ordered Dade City’s Wild Things not to remove or relocate any of its 22 tigers,” pending resolution of the case.
“By Sunday,” McManus continued, “19 of the Dade City tigers pulled into the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma after a 1,200-mile journey on a cattle truck. G.W. Exotic Animal Park entertainment director Joe Maldonado confirmed 19 of Stearns’ tigers arrived at his facility. He said a pregnant tiger gave birth during the haul, and all three cubs died. He did not know the whereabouts of the other three tigers cited in the court order.”
23 dead tiger cubs in seven months
McManus noted that “In 2006, the USDA suspended G.W. Exotic’s exhibitor’s license and ordered a $25,000 fine to settle repeated violations, including failure to provide animals clean water, failure to provide structurally sound facilities and not having trained employees. The federal agency in 2010 opened an investigation into the deaths of 23 tiger cubs over a seven-month period under Maldonado’s care, and in 2013 investigated the deaths of two others. That investigation is still open.”
Even before 2006, “Joe Exotic” had already earned considerable notoriety.
“Joe Exotic” and his brother Garold operated an exotic pet store called Super Pet in Arlington, Texas, until Garold was killed in an October 1997 truck crash.
“Joe Exotic,” as Joe Schreibvogel, was also identified by the Dallas Morning News as co-operator, with a man named Jim Claytor, of a wildlife rescue service called Nature’s Hope.
In February 1999, police in Plano, Texas, found 69 dead emus and about 160 others cannibalizing their remains on the property of housing developer and former emu speculator Kuo-Wei Lee.
Schreibvogel and Claytor took possession of the survivors and hauled most of them to a ranch about 50 miles away, to await relocation to permanent sanctuary. When they could not catch all of the emus, Schreibvogel and Claytor allegedly shot at least six of them.
SPCA of Texas chief cruelty investigator Bobby French videotaped the shootings, but the Ellis County grand jury refused to indict Schreibvogel and Claytor. Schreibvogel then filed a defamation suit against the SPCA of Texas, claiming that their release of the video to news media had hurt sales at Super Pet.
Moved from Texas to Oklahoma
Schreibvogel sold Super Pet soon afterward, and in October 1999 opened the G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation, the original name of the animal exhibition facility in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, in his brother’s memory.
Within two years Schreibvogel ran into trouble with the Oklahoma Wildlife Department for allegedly operating unsafe road shows.
“We know we have some young kids being put in enclosures with large animals,” charged Oklahoma assistant attorney general Elizabeth Sharrock in July 2002, but Schreibvogel won a temporary injunction that allowed the road shows to continue.
Sharrock, a Great Dane rescuer, left public office in 2005. Schreibvogel was still doing road shows.
Housed animals impounded by law enforcement
Noted Bob Ducette of The Oklahoman, “The animal park has been a destination of choice for state officials and other entities needing a place to house animals who don’t normally live in Oklahoma. The cost of housing these animals is also a legal matter in the case [against the road shows]. The animal park is seeking $168,000 from the state to help defray costs.”