Joe Exotic: Why Is ‘Tiger King’ Star In Jail?

Joe Exotic aka the 'Tiger King' made a lasting impression on viewers of the titular Netflix show, but after the docuseries aired, he could only make an impression behind bars. So what really went down?

Joe Exotic
View gallery
Image Credit: Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock

Tiger King 2 is coming Nov. 17 to Netflix, and fans again have the stars from the first docuseries on their minds. After the original Tiger King captivated audiences when it began streaming on March 20, 2020, many wondered about its main driving force, the eponymous “Tiger King,” Joe Exotic.

The former owner of G.W. Zoo in Oklahoma made an impression on viewers with his wild look and even wilder career choice — keeping up a big cat zoo for paying customers. The series reportedly brought in 34 million viewers in just 10 days, labeled as one of Netflix’s most successful series of all time.

After the show aired, the 58-year-old was revealed to be behind bars, causing fans to wonder about the specifics of his sentence. So why exactly is Joe Exotic in prison?

Why Was Joe Exotic Arrested? 

Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic (Netflix/Kobal/Shutterstock)

Joe, whose full legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was arrested on Sept. 7, 2018 for conspiring to murder his nemesis, Carole Baskin, 58, who owns Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, after a decades-long feud. The two had been at odds due to Carole’s active critique of Joe’s animal park and cat-keeping practices and she had also secured a million-dollar settlement against him for a trademark infringement suit in 2011.

“Because of his constant threats to kill me, I have found myself seeing every bystander as a potential threat,” Carole said in a statement, per CNN. “There is no where that I have felt safe, and worse, no way that I feel I can safeguard those around me,” Baskin said in a statement. “So many of his threats involved blowing me up, so that he could thrill over seeing me burn to death.” Their feud finally came to a head in 2017 when Joe attempted to pay a man named Allen Glover for $3,000 to kill Carole

Joe was also arrested for accusations of illegally killing endangered tigers at his park to make room for other exotic animals. Erik Cowie, the head zookeeper of Joe’s attraction, claimed Joe had put down hundreds of tigers during his time as owner. “They euthanized them and had a veterinarian sign off on them with excuses like, they were too old, sick, etc.” he told the Daily Mail.

“Most of the time a veterinarian wasn’t even around when things like that would happen,” Erik added, “but he would write it down on a log, so he could be covered in case government inspectors wanted to check his books.”

What Is His Sentence? 

Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic (AP/Shutterstock)

A federal jury found Joe guilty of two counts on hiring someone to murder Carole in Florida, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for tampering with and falsifying wildlife records, nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act by killing five tigers and selling others across state lines.

The infamous Netflix star was initially sentenced to 22 years on January 22, 2020, and was incarcerated at Federal Medical Center, Fort Worth. Joe was then re-sentenced in July 2021

Is There A Possibility For Release? 

Joe Exotic
Joe Exotic (Sue Ogrocki/AP/Shutterstock)

In April 2020, after the show made a major impression on the world, Joe and his jail sentence were a topic of conversation at a White House press briefing about COVID-19. A few days later, then-president Donald Trump‘s son, Donald Trump Jr., made a joke about Joe getting a potential pardon, although that prospective action never came to fruition.

In May 2020, a group of volunteers called the “Tiger Team” plus an attorney and private investigator delivered a 257-page document to the U.S. Department of Justice disputing elements of his conviction and asking President Trump to pardon him, although he was not pardoned and remained incarcerated.

In March 2021, it was reported that Joe was intending to seek a pardon from now-president Joe Biden, but that attempt also went nowhere, causing the former zoo owner to seek out new representation in John Michael Phillips and Amy Hanna. The new attorneys plan to file a motion for a new trial in federal court in Oklahoma.

More From Our Partners