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Ex-zookeeper 'Joe Exotic' accused of using money from tiger sales for murder-for-hire plot

Joseph Maldonado-Passage is charged with trying to hire someone to kill the operator of a Florida-based animal sanctuary.
Credit: Santa Rosa County Jail

OKLAHOMA CITY — (AP) - Federal prosecutors are accusing an ex-Oklahoma zookeeper and former gubernatorial candidate of trying to pay an FBI agent posing as a hit man with money from selling tigers.

Court documents filed Friday reveal details of what prosecutors say is a December 2017 recording of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who goes by "Joe Exotic," negotiating with the undercover agent. The 55-year-old Maldonado-Passage is charged with trying to hire someone to kill the operator of a Florida-based animal sanctuary.

He pleaded not guilty. His attorney didn't immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.

Previous: 'Joe Exotic,' tiger keep and former political candidate, charged in murder-for-hire plot

Maldonado-Passage also faces charges of killing tigers and selling cubs in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

The trial is set for Jan. 8 in Oklahoma City.

Maldonado-Passage operated a zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and ran unsuccessfully for Oklahoma governor this year. In 2013, he lost a $1 million trademark infringement lawsuit against Tampa's Big Cat Rescue after reportedly lifting images and logos from the sanctuary.

After he was arrested, Big Cat Rescue said Maldonado-Passage had made threats online, including "a video of him shooting in the head a blow up doll dressed to look like (the CEO of Big Cat Rescue) and an image hanging her in effigy."

(Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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