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Why is Joe Exotic in Prison?

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, better known as Joe Exotic, is an eccentric former zoo operator and subject of the 2020 Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.” Joe Exotic became a pop culture phenomenon due to the show’s dive into the strange world of big cat collectors in America. However, Joe Exotic also gained notoriety for earning a 22-year prison sentence. Here is a breakdown of why Joe Exotic is currently incarcerated.

Joe Exotic’s Background

Prior to his arrest, Joe Exotic operated a roadside zoo in Oklahoma called the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park. He was known for his blonde mullet, flamboyant clothes, gun-toting persona, and polyamorous marriages.

Joe Exotic bred lions, tigers, and other big cats which he sold, traded, and exhibited around the country. He also made some income from YouTube and reality TV shows focused on his exotic animal exploits.

However, Joe Exotic’s animal park was also suspected of rampant animal abuse and illegal wildlife trafficking. This caught the attention of animal rights activist Carole Baskin, igniting a heated rivalry between them.

The Feud with Carole Baskin

Much of Joe Exotic’s current legal troubles stem from his long-running feud with Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue sanctuary in Florida. Carole publicly exposed issues at Joe’s zoo which angered him.

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Joe made threats against Carole, posted disturbing images online, and eventually tried to hire someone to kill her. Most of his prison time resulted from charges related to trying to murder Carole in retaliation for her activism against Joe’s zoo.

Their bitter rivalry escalated over many years until Joe’s eventual arrest by the FBI in 2018 for a murder-for-hire plot. Joe’s obsessive hatred of Carole Baskin proved to be his downfall.

Murder-for-Hire Charges

Joe Exotic was convicted on two counts of hiring someone to murder Carole Baskin. Though his plots were not successful, Joe was caught on tape trying to hire undercover FBI agents to travel to Florida and kill Carole.

In exchange for murdering Carole, Joe offered to pay $3,000 upfront and thousands more after the deed was done. Joe was also convicted of falsifying wildlife records related to his big cat breeding and trade.

These very serious federal charges against Joe Exotic led to his lengthy prison sentence. He is currently serving time in a federal prison in Texas.

Other Legal Issues

Aside from the murder-for-hire convictions, Joe Exotic had numerous other run-ins with the law over the years that contributed to his imprisonment, including:

  • Animal cruelty charges
  • Illegal sale and transport of endangered species
  • Immigration violations
  • Financial and tax crimes
  • Falsifying records
  • Violating the Endangered Species Act

Authorities had long been looking for ways to hold Joe Exotic accountable for years of suspected criminal activity at his animal park before his arrest. The murder plots against Carole Baskin finally gave them the opening.

Joe’s Prison Life

Joe Exotic is serving his 22-year sentence at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas. He has complained about frequent isolation and lack of proper mental healthcare in prison.

In 2021, Joe was also diagnosed with prostate cancer which he has been receiving treatment for in custody. Joe’s lawyers have said his health is declining rapidly in prison due to inadequate medical care.

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His legal team has filed appeals for clemency or compassionate early release given his cancer diagnosis. But so far attempts to get Joe Exotic freed from prison have not been successful.

Efforts by Supporters

Joe Exotic has a group of ardent supporters who believe he was unjustly convicted and given an excessive sentence. His supporters have held rallies pressing for his release or a presidential pardon.

Online petitions by devoted fans of Joe Exotic have called on authorities to re-examine his murder-for-hire convictions in particular and grant him leniency. But prosecutors maintain they have an air-tight case that warrants his lengthy incarceration.

For now Joe Exotic remains behind bars serving one of the longest prison terms of anyone convicted in the controversial big cat underworld he inhabited. His larger-than-life persona has made him an unlikely cult icon as he fights to regain his freedom.


Joe Exotic earned his 22-year prison sentence by repeatedly crossing legal lines in operating his animal park and through his vendetta against rival Carole Baskin. His murder-for-hire convictions combined with a history of animal abuse and other crimes led to major prison time.

While his supporters demand justice, Joe Exotic continues to pay the price for his illegal big cat antics and outrageous behavior. The bizarre true-crime saga of Joe Exotic captivated the public and landed an eccentric former zoo operator in federal prison.

The bizarre saga of Joe Exotic continues to fascinate true crime fans and advocates on both sides of his case. His over-the-top persona and conviction for murder plots add to the singular legend around Joe’s unusual imprisonment journey. With cancer complicating matters further, Joe Exotic remains locked in a legal fight for freedom unlike any other.

What specific crimes is Joe Exotic in prison for?

He is serving time for murder-for-hire plots against Carole Baskin and wildlife crimes related to his zoo’s endangered species breeding and trade.

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How long is Joe Exotic’s prison sentence?

In 2019 he was sentenced to 22 years in federal prison, of which he has currently served about 3-4 years.

What facility is Joe Exotic being held at?

Joe is incarcerated at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, Texas which houses inmates requiring medical care.

Does Joe Exotic have cancer?

Yes, in 2021 Joe announced he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer while in prison and is receiving treatment.

What appeals have been filed related to Joe’s case?

His legal team has unsuccessfully filed for a new trial and appealed for early release or a pardon due to his cancer diagnosis.

What are Joe’s prison conditions like?

Joe has complained of frequent isolation and poor mental healthcare in prison. Supporters say he is declining rapidly due to inadequate medical treatment.

Is Joe Exotic allowed to give interviews from prison?

Yes, with approval he has given print and broadcast interviews periodically from custody, maintaining his outspoken persona.

Has Joe exhibited any remorse for his crimes?

Joe maintains his innocence and has not publicly shown remorse for the murder-for-hire or animal abuse crimes. He insists he was wrongly convicted.

Does Joe Exotic have a chance at early release?

Barring a presidential pardon, chances seem very slim that Joe’s multiple federal convictions could lead to early release. But his lawyers vow to keep trying.

What do Joe Exotic’s supporters want to happen?

His supporters believe he was overly and unjustly punished. They continue petitioning for his conviction to be re-examined or for him to get a pardon granting immediate release.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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