OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – After learning that he would not be pardoned in the final moments of Donald Trump’s presidency, “Joe Exotic” and his team issued statements blasting the decision.
Joseph Maldonado-Passage and his team were so confident that his name would be on the list of presidential pardons, that a stretch-truck limousine was waiting to take the ‘Tiger King’ to a secret location once his pardon was official, according to a Newsweek report.
Eric Love, the leader of Maldonado-Passage’s legal team, told KOCO News that he had expected the pardon sometime between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
“Trust me, anything you can think of we have it, including a doctor and also a mental health expert,” Love told KOCO.
“Joe’s biggest thing is he can’t wait to get out, as you can imagine, and he doesn’t want anyone to see him until his hair is done,” Love said. “So, the most important person tomorrow is the hair and makeup and wardrobe.”
Once the pardons were announced, however, it soon became clear that Maldonado-Passage was not among those to be freed from prison. On Wednesday afternoon, Joe Exotic’s Twitter account released a statement from him:
His team, Team Tiger, also released a statement, thanking fans and saying Maldonado-Passage is innocent of the crimes for which he was convicted.
“140 million Joe Exotic fans had a hard time getting out of bed this morning. We are as disappointed that The President did not sign Joe’s Pardon, as we were confident yesterday that he would. It is only because of you 140 million fans that Joe’s Pardon was even a possibility. Since his trial, the evidence has made it clear that Joe is not guilty but, rather, he is a victim of the persons he trusted most.
Team Tiger, just this morning spent two hours on the telephone with Joe and listened to his Direct Appeal Oral Arguments by Brandon Sample in Colorado. We will not stop, we will not rest until Joe’s injustice is corrected.”Team Tiger statement
In 2018, Maldonado-Passage, former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Animal Park, was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of murder for hire.
Prosecutors say Maldonado-Passage gave a person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to carry out the murder of big cat activist Carole Baskin and “allegedly agreed to pay thousands more after the deed,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.
A grand jury also indicted Maldonado-Passage on an additional 19 counts of wildlife charges, including the violation of the Endangered Species Act and the Lacey Act.
Prosecutors say he shot and killed five tigers in October 2017 to make room in cages for other big cats and sold tiger cubs to raise money. He was also accused of falsifying records relating to the tigers, lions, and a baby lemur that were purportedly being donated or transported for exhibition but were actually sold.
Officials offered evidence in the form of recordings of Maldonado-Passage negotiating the hiring of an undercover FBI agent who was posing as a hitman. When talking about payment, Maldonado-Passage reportedly said, “I’ll just sell a bunch of tigers.”
The intended target of the hit was Carole Baskin, a chief critic of Maldonado-Passage. Baskin successfully sued Maldonado-Passage for trademark infringement in 2011 and was outspoken about the treatment of animals at the park.
The defense claimed their client was framed. They say he was all talk and had no intention of wanting Baskin dead.
The former Greater Wynnewood Animal Park owner was found guilty on all counts in 2019.
He was ultimately sentenced to a total of 22 years in prison for all of the convictions. Officials say he was sentenced to nine years in prison for each of the murder-for-hire convictions and four years for the wildlife violations.
Following his sentence, Netflix released a popular documentary series called “Tiger King” about Maldonado-Passage’s life and the crimes.
Last year, a judge granted Baskin the rights to the land where the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park was located.
In September, Joe Exotic made headlines again when he sent a letter to President Donald Trump, asking for a pardon.
Maldonado-Passage started the letter writing, “If I have ever looked up to anyone it would be you. Not because I need you to save my life, but because you stand for what you believe no matter what anyone thinks.”
Joe Exotic ended the letter with, “Allow me to make you proud, to make America proud, to make the world proud. Be my hero please.”
On Tuesday, a federal judge ordered the new owners of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park to turn over all the lion and tiger cubs and their mothers to the federal government.
The Justice Department filed a civil complaint in November accusing the new owners of the park, “Tiger King” star Jeffrey Lowe and his wife, Lauren, of violating both the Endangered Species Act and Animal Welfare Act, accusing them of “inhumane treatment” of their exotic animals.
The Lowes lost their license in August after inspectors reported squalid conditions at the zoo. According to the complaint, the Lowes moved the animals to Thackerville, Oklahoma, to create an unlicensed wildlife park called “Tiger King Park.”