The pop culture phenomenon that is Joe Exotic and his saga documented by the Netflix series The Tiger King just took another rather dramatic twist. In fact, it is such a twist that it deserves a show of its own! And what could make the story of Joe Exotic (aka Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, aka The Tiger King) more dramatic?
How about his Oklahoma zoo falling into the hands of his arch nemesis…one Carole Baskin?
In June of 2020, that is precisely what happened. It is the end result of a lawsuit that Carole Baskin had filed and won in 2016. In that case, Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue had filed a suit against Joe Exotic’s mother, Shirley M. Schreibvogel, because Joe had fraudulently transferred the properties to his mother. He’d done so to avoid paying a one million dollar trademark judgment Baskin had won against him in an earlier case in 2011.
However, while under oath, Schreibvogel admitted to the scheme and said it was to prevent creditors from attaching or forcing sale of the property. The creditors mentioned included Big Cat Rescue (if it were to win the pending lawsuit, which it did).
This removes ownership of the park from the hands of another character made famous in the Netflix series, Jeff Lowe. However, he had anticipated this outcome. His attorney said that they were not surprised and had expected Baskin to eventually get her hands on the property. They did not challenge her efforts and instead decided to open a different park in the coming months.
Until then, Lowe has only 120 days to vacate. He must take all of the big cats with him, but Baskin gets all of the acreage, vehicles, structures and other items on the premises.
Baskin and Maldonado-Passage have a now world-famous mutual hatred. For many years, Baskin had been telling the world that Joe Exotic abused and used animals purely for profit. As CNN said, “Maldonado-Passage argued that Baskin was trying to destroy his business with an online smear campaign in videos she posted to her YouTube page and social media channels. Meanwhile, Baskin argued that Exotic was abusing his animals and crusaded against his use of tigers for profit.”
The two went to court over this and other issues, with Baskin emerging the victor. This led to the surprising move by Maldonado-Passage to allegedly hire a hitman to kill Baskin. Court documents indicate that he paid someone $3000 to shoot Ms. Baskin. Those same documents indicate that he also killed several tigers, falsified paperwork to hide the crime, and sold off baby lemurs, which breaks animal cruelty laws.
However, it was his loss in the courts in 2011 that kicked off the entire issue. It was at that time that Baskin won a trademark infringement case against Maldanado-Passage, and he was ordered to pay $1 million.
In 2019, he was convicted of the murder for hire scheme and sentenced to 22 years. His sentencing also included animal abuse crimes.
The saga of Joe Exotic is unlikely to leave headlines soon. There are some who want the man released from prison. Many have created an endless array of memes and jokes about Carole Baskin and the entire cast of characters from the Tiger King program. However, as this court case shows, it is only Ms. Baskin who seems to have emerged a winner in the scenario.
In the courts or not, the entire story is intriguing and likely to have a few more plot twists before it comes to a, hopefully happy, end.