Fort Worth, TX – Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage is suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the U.S. Department of Interior for allegedly violating his civil rights.
Maldonado-Passage, star of Netflix’s seven-part hit docu-series, “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” also named his former business partner, an assistant U.S. attorney, and a confidential informant in the lawsuit.
He has demanded to be awarded nearly $94 million in damages, and also called upon President Donald Trump to pardon him and release him from his 22-year federal prison sentence.
In 2019, he was convicted on 21 federal counts, which included hiring a hitman to murder his rival, Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, as well as selling tiger cubs and killing five of his adult tigers.
“Just like, follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off,” Maldonado-Passage told an undercover FBI agent after offering him $10,000 to kill Baskin, according to the New York Post.
Despite Maldonado-Passage’s repeated discussions about having her killed, Baskin was not harmed.
Maldonado-Passage, who previously made an unsuccessful bid to become Oklahoma’s governor, represented himself during his trial.
Maldonado-Passage had the lawsuit posted to his Facebook page on March 19, while he was being housed at the Grady County Jail in Oklahoma.
The 57-year-old former zookeeper accused the defendants of a slew of wrongdoings, including perjury, misleading a grand jury, false arrest, false imprisonment, misrepresentation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and malicious prosecution.
Maldonado-Passage said that they also contributed to his mother’s death, discriminated against him, and caused him mental anguish, pain, and suffering.
According to the lawsuit, a federal grand jury “was misled” by an informant, resulting in Maldonado-Passage being indicted on two counts of murder for hire.
“During the course of this malicious prosecution, the Plaintiff would not take a plea to the murder for hire charges so the Government superseded the indictment with 20 Wildlife charges to make the Plaintiff pay the price for asking for a trial,” the former zookeeper claimed.
He alleged that federal agencies “placed the generic tiger on the ESA…for the sole purpose of targeting certain individuals and businesses that breed and use generic tigers in commercial businesses.”
The lawsuit acknowledged that Maldonado-Passage euthanized the five tigers, but argued that the “rescues” were his “personal property,” and that they were suffering from “14 years of painful walking on declawed paws to the point that they were crippled.”
He also claimed that the animals were euthanized in accordance with state and federal laws.
According to Maldonado-Passage, he was “discriminated against…because [he] is an openly gay male with the largest collection of generic tigers and cross breeds.”
“The government has no interest in equal protection under the law for the Plaintiff, which violates the Plaintiff’s civil and constitution rights because he is gay and the Government is discriminating and maliciously prosecuting, which has resulted in false imprisonment…which has caused the loss of personal property and [loss of] being the primary caretaker of the Plaintiff’s mother, Shirley Schreibvogel,” according to the lawsuit.
“This contributed to his mother’s death and possible murder by overdose,” he added.
Maldonado-Passage alleged that his former business partner, Jeffery Lowe, “had the most to gain” by Schreibvogel’s death, and said that Lowe had Schreibvogel cremated “before announcing that she had died.”
As a result, Lowe became the sole owner of the zoo land and all the assets, to include Maldonado-Passage’s animals.
According to the lawsuit, the FWS improperly applied the ESA to his case by trying to extend protections meant for “Native Plants and Animals” to “Exotics” at the behest of animal rights groups.
“There has never been a Native tiger…roaming free in the United States or has one ever had a habitat to live in within the boundaries of the United states,” Maldonado-Passage argued. “So the FWS and its agents are clearly enforcing these laws under pressure of the animal rights groups.”
The convicted felon pointed out that during the 18 years his business was in operation, the FWS never asked him to provide an inventory of his tigers, nor did they request information pertaining to their births, transfers, sales, deaths, or where their remains were located.
He then accused “the FWS and its agents” of “abusing their power” and “failing to uphold the Oath that the agents have taken to uphold the law and protect the Constitution.”
Maldonado-Passage claimed that the FWS agent was “clearly aware” that Lowe had allegedly offered the confidential informant $100,000 “to set up and get” Maldonado-Passage “out of the way.”
He accused the agent of ignoring this “intentional entrapment,” and claimed that prosecutors allowed “perjury to gain false convictions,” according to the lawsuit.
Maldonado-Passage is seeking compensation in the amount of $78,840,000 for “18 years of research and care of 200 generic tigers and cross-breeds,” as well as $15,000,000 for false arrest, discrimination, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, misinterpreting the law, selective enforcement, and contributing to Schreibvogel’s death.
“This lawsuit has been filed in the name of Justice,” Maldonado-Passage proclaimed in his Facebook post on March 19. “The Trump Administration must be made aware of the Overreach, perjury, abuse of power and the failure to uphold the Oath of their position which is truth and Justice for all.”
“I have been illegally charged with these crimes and the Trump Administration, the United States Department of Interior along [with] the Federal Wildlife service must be held accountable for what they have done to me, my parents and my family, along with my animals,” he wrote.
Maldonado-Passage also posted an open letter to Trump on his Facebook page on March 25, urging him to either grant him a pardon or to open a special investigation into his case.
“I know by seeing your passion and conviction regarding our rights as American Citizens that this isn’t what you meant by your belief to ‘Let’s Make America Great Again,’” he wrote. “Mr. President, I am pleading with you to please have this looked into.”
According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, Maldonado-Passage is currently incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center (FMC) Fort Worth.