OKLAHOMA CITY — (AP) - Federal prosecutors are accusing an ex-Oklahoma zookeeper and former gubernatorial candidate of trying to pay an FBI agent posing as a hit man with money from selling tigers.
Court documents filed Friday reveal details of what prosecutors say is a December 2017 recording of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, who goes by "Joe Exotic," negotiating with the undercover agent. The 55-year-old Maldonado-Passage is charged with trying to hire someone to kill the operator of a Florida-based animal sanctuary.
He pleaded not guilty. His attorney didn't immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Maldonado-Passage also faces charges of killing tigers and selling cubs in violation of the Endangered Species Act.
The trial is set for Jan. 8 in Oklahoma City.
Maldonado-Passage operated a zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, and ran unsuccessfully for Oklahoma governor this year. In 2013, he lost a $1 million trademark infringement lawsuit against Tampa's Big Cat Rescue after reportedly lifting images and logos from the sanctuary.
After he was arrested, Big Cat Rescue said Maldonado-Passage had made threats online, including "a video of him shooting in the head a blow up doll dressed to look like (the CEO of Big Cat Rescue) and an image hanging her in effigy."
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