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Local animal conservationist speaks out about ‘murder for hire’ plot

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka "Joe Exotic" was indicted, accused of hiring someone to commit murder.
Credit: KWTV
Oklahoma zookeeper Joe Maldonado-Passage, a k a Joe Exotic, tried to hire two people to kill a Tampa woman, prosecutors allege.

A decade's long feud comes to a bizarre end between a well-known Oklahoma zookeeper and the CEO of Tampa's Big Cat Rescue.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Joseph Maldonado-Passage aka “Joe Exotic” was indicted, accused of hiring someone to commit murder.

Documents list the victim as a "Jane Doe," but the CEO of Big Cat Rescue, Carole Baskin, revealed on social media Friday night that it was her.

Baskin founded Big Cat Rescue 26 years ago and uses her platform to educate others on "pay to play" schemes, among other things.

That’s when someone is allowing people to pet lion and tiger cubs in exchange for money.

“Our mission is to put ourselves out of business because there shouldn't have to be a place rescuing lions and tigers from people that get them as pets,” Baskin said.

She also puts businesses on blast via social media that are doing such schemes, including one in Oklahoma called "Big Cats of Joe Exotic.”

It was founded by a man known as Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who 10Investigates talked to in the past.

The same man arrested for allegedly offering to pay two different people to murder Baskin.

“When I started posting all of that, what he did was he changed the name of his act to Big Cat Rescue entertainment and he took the top part of our logo and blurred out the rescue part and on the bottom, it said entertainment, Baskin said.

READ: Oklahoma man charged with trying to have Tampa Big Cat Rescue CEO killed

In 2011, Big Cat Rescue sued "Joe Exotic" and years later won more than a million dollars. Baskin said she has yet to collect all the money.

That's when, Baskin says, Maldonado-Passage started posting online threats.

“He's posted pictures of an effigy of me hanging and pointing a gun to my head and pointing a bow and arrow at me,” she says.

This indictment by a federal grand jury reveals Maldonado-Passage paid one person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to carry out the murder.

“He's so violent, I expected he would do that himself,” she says.

Baskin came out on social media as being the “Jane Doe” in the documents because she wanted people to know the abuse Maldonado-Passage had put her through.

“I'm happy that he's been arrested, I will still be nervous moving forward because he hasn't been convicted yet,” she says.

The paperwork also revealed Maldonado-Passage allegedly offered to pay an undercover FBI agent to murder Baskin.

“We are enormously grateful to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the FBI, the US 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,” says Baskin.

10 Investigates has interviewed "Joe Exotic" in the past, and he blasted Big Cat Rescue for buying and breeding the cats.

Baskin admitted that was true, but it was decades ago and said she wasn't aware that once an exotic cat is bred they must stay in captivity for life, so she stopped the practice.

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