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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Oklahoma

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Grand Jury Adds Wildlife Charges to Murder-For-Hire Allegations Against "Joe Exotic"

OKLAHOMA CITY – JOSEPH MALDONADO-PASSAGE, also known as Joseph Allen Maldonado, Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, and "Joe Exotic," 55, formerly of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, has been charged in a 21-count superseding indictment that includes the two previously charged murder-for-hire counts and also alleges nineteen wildlife crimes, including the alleged killing of five tigers and the illegal sale of tiger cubs, in violation of the Endangered Species Act and Lacey Act, announced Robert J. Troester of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma. 

On September 5, 2018, a federal grand jury returned an indictment that accuses Maldonado-Passage of hiring an unnamed person in November 2017 to murder "Jane Doe" in Florida.  According to the indictment, 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.  According to the indictment, the person traveled from Oklahoma to South Carolina on November 26, 2017.

In a second count, the September 5 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.

The U.S. Marshals Service arrested Maldonado-Passage in Gulf Breeze, Florida, on September 7, 2018.  He has been ordered detained in the Marshals’ custody pending trial.

According to the superseding indictment handed down today, Maldonado-Passage shot and killed five tigers in October 2017 to make room for cage space for other big cats.  Because tigers are an endangered species, these alleged killings violated the Endangered Species Act.  He is also charged with violating the Endangered Species Act by selling and offering to sell tiger cubs in interstate commerce.  These crimes are alleged to have taken place from November 16, 2016, to March 6, 2018.

The remaining wildlife counts allege 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 that they were being sold in interstate commerce.  One count alleges that Maldonado-Passage sold in interstate commerce a two-week-old lion cub.

If Maldonado-Passage is found guilty of murder-for-hire, he could be imprisoned on each count up to ten years.  He would also be subject to up to three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000 per count.  If convicted of a violation of the Endangered Species Act, he could be sentenced on each count to one year in prison, a fine of $100,000, and one year of supervised release.  Each Lacey Act violation could carry a prison term of five years, a fine of $250,000, and three years of supervised release.

"The investigation of murder-for-hire and wildlife allegations has required close coordination among law enforcement," said Mr. Troester.  "We will work hard to protect people as well as wildlife and deter these sorts of crimes."

"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is committed to combating illegal wildlife trafficking and protecting our wildlife resources for the benefit of future generations," said Acting Assistant Director of Law Enforcement for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Edward Grace. "We thank our partners at the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, and the Department of Justice for their help in this case.  Together we will continue to investigate and prosecute those who engage in unlawful wildlife trafficking for monetary gain."

Oklahoma City FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Kathryn Peterson said: "The FBI appreciates our law enforcement partners and the combined efforts which thwarted this murder-for-hire plot and uncovered these serious wildlife crimes."

This case is the result of an investigation by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement, the FBI, 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 are prosecuting the case.

The public is reminded that these charges are merely allegations and that Maldonado-Passage is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  Reference is made to court filings for further information.

Topic(s): 
Wildlife
Updated November 7, 2018