Carole Baskin Is Only Part Of The Reason Joe Exotic Is In Prison

He was sentenced to 22 years in January 2020.

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Joe Exotic gives an interview in Tiger King on Netflix.

Tiger King’s first season opens with a call from Joe Exotic — aka Joseph Maldonado-Passage — placed from inside an Oklahoma jailhouse. “Let me show and tell the whole thing because then you’ll get it,” he promises. “Then you’ll say, 'Jesus f*cking Christ, why are you in jail?'”

What follows is a seven-episode saga that culminates with the big cat fanatic being charged for hiring someone to murder Carole Baskin, the founder of the exotic cat sanctuary Big Cat Rescue and Exotic’s longtime rival. But the answer to why exactly Exotic is in prison now is a little more complicated than that.

On Jan. 22, 2020, Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison for a conviction that included the two counts of murder-for-hire but also 17 other crimes. Eight of those counts pertained to violations of the Lacey Act, a century-old conservation law that prohibits trade in illegal wildlife. In particular, Exotic was charged for allegedly falsifying delivery forms and vet inspections for tigers, lions, and a baby lemur. The doctored forms reportedly indicated the animals were being donated or publicly exhibited across state lines when really they were being sold. In one instance, Exotic was charged with selling a lion cub just two weeks after birth.

Perhaps more chilling are Exotic’s nine violations of the Endangered Species Act. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s indictment, Exotic shot and killed five tigers in 2017 to make cage space for his other big cats. He also allegedly violated the ESA by illegally selling tiger cubs, which have been an internationally protected species since the 1970s.

Exotic, now 58, has maintained his innocence in relation the charges brought against him, insisting that his former business partner, Jeff Lowe, set him up for the murder-for-hire plot. (Lowe denies the claim). Though Exotic has repeatedly tried to appeal his sentence, his attempts have been unsuccessful. In April 2020, a judge dismissed his first appeal, deeming it “frivolous” and poorly written. Five months later, Exotic filed for a presidential pardon, claiming that he was “railroaded and betrayed” by others. “Joseph is scheduled to be released from (Bureau of Prisons) custody in 2037; however, with his ‘comprised’ health, he will likely die in prison,” his attorneys wrote in a 257-page application, per the Associated Press. “He humbly requests a pardon to correct the injustices he has experienced and to have the opportunity to return to providing meaningful contributions to his community.”

In July 2021, a federal appeals court upheld Exotic’s conviction, but ordered that he be resentenced, potentially shortening his time in prison. During his original sentencing, Exotic’s two murder-for-hire charges were considered separately. However, the court ruled that they should have been grouped together. Had that been the case, Exotic’s prison term could have been as low as 17 and a half years. In a statement, Exotic’s lawyer for the appeal, Brandon Sample, said he was hopeful the decision would be the first of many victories for his client.

“I knew when I agreed to represent Joe that an appeal would be difficult,” Sample said, “but I also knew that the law was on Joe’s side.”

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