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‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now
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‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now

‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now
Former Oklahoma wildlife refuge owner Joseph Maldonado-Passage, left, was sentenced Jan. 22, 2020, to 22 years in federal prison for plotting to kill Carole Baskin, right, a Tampa-based animal rights activist. Maldonado-Passage's feud with Baskin, his crimes and his career exploits are the subjects of a wildly popular Netflix limited series, "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness." (Netflix)

‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now

Joseph Maldonado-Passage seems made for reality TV.

The one-time Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate and former wildlife park owner, known to fans by the moniker “Joe Exotic,” is a self-described “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet.” A tiger breeder, he had his own YouTube channel, JoeExoticTV, on which he used to post footage of his wild exploits.

His reality today is much different. Maldonado-Passage, 57, is currently serving a 22-year federal prison sentence for two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act.

According to federal prison records, Maldonado-Passage is currently housed at the Federal Medical Center Fort Worth.

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‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now

Maldonado-Passage’s crimes are on full display in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” a seven-episode limited series on Netflix that chronicles how Maldonado-Passage went from freedom in the wild to behind bars in a federal prison in Texas.

The streaming service describes the series as “a jaw-dropping true tale of con artists, polygamy, rivalry and revenge.” Netflix’s description of the documentary’s star is similar: A “mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country western singer who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo.”

Watch Netflix’s trailer for “Tiger King” below.

“Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, conmen and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats, and the status and attention their dangerous menageries garner,” the description states. “But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, stoking a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe’s arrest for a murder-for-hire plot, and reveals a twisted tale where the only thing more dangerous than a big cat is its owner.”

Maldonado-Passage is in prison for hiring someone to kill Baskin. The charges of falsifying records and violating the Endangered Species Act stem from his slaughtering of five tigers at his refuge.

Watch a “Joe Exotic Sizzle Reel” from Maldonado-Passage’s YouTube channel below. It may contain some graphic language.

‘Tiger King’s’ reception in the age of coronavirus

The documentary series has had remarkable success as Netflix viewers try to temporarily forget about the terrifying global coronavirus pandemic that, as of Friday afternoon, had sickened well over half a million people worldwide and killed more than 26,000.

Memes abound on social media, and everyone from celebrities like Kim Kardashian West to, well, average Joes, have weighed in on the craziness. Actor and musician Jared Leto hosted an online “Tiger King” watch party -- and dressed as “Joe Exotic” for the occasion.

Below are some of the other memes:

The Netflix documentary is not the first time the “Joe Exotic” case has garnered national attention. Baskin was the main subject of a podcast by Wondery for its series, “Over My Dead Body.”

More Hollywood fodder about Maldonado-Passage and Baskin is on the way. Vanity Fair reported that comedian and actress Kate McKinnon has signed up to star in and executive produce a limited series based on that podcast.

McKinnon is slated to portray Baskin.

Maldonado-Passage’s role has not yet been cast, though Vanity Fair’s article said this: “Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson are thumb-wrestling to see whose agent gets to reach out about playing Joe Exotic, while David Spade is crafting a really, really long text to McKinnon about their shared SNL ties.”

Actor Dax Shepard also has thrown his hat into the ring.

“If I don’t get cast as Joe Exotic in the eventual biopic, Hollywood is broken,” Shepard tweeted.

Edward Norton replied: “Um, step aside, pal. You’re way too young and buff and you know it.”

Netflix U.S. also replied to Shepard’s tweet.

“I’m liking what I’m hearing,” the tweet said.

Buzzfeed News reported that the series’ creators are hinting at a possible second season.

“Tiger King” director Eric Goode told the Los Angeles Times that Maldonado-Passage is happy with the finished documentary and is “over the moon” about being a household name.

“Joe has called me quite a few times over the last few days and weeks. One, he is absolutely ecstatic about the series and the idea of being famous,” Goode told the Times. “He’s absolutely thrilled. I think he is trying to be an advocate for -- no surprise -- criminal justice reform. He is in a cage, and of course, he’s going to say that he now recognizes what he did to these animals.”

Goode indicated he didn’t necessarily believe the former wildlife owner is regretful.

“I take it with a big grain of salt when he says he is now apologetic for keeping animals,” the director said.

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‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now

Not everyone is thrilled by the series, particularly Baskin, who used her rescue’s website to refute the lies she alleges are included in the documentary. One of the more salacious bombshells: a suggestion that Baskin had a hand in the disappearance of her husband, Don Lewis, more than two decades ago.

“When the directors of the Netflix documentary Tiger King came to us five years ago, they said they wanted to make the big cat version of Blackfish (the documentary that exposed abuse at SeaWorld) that would expose the misery caused by the rampant breeding of big cat cubs for cub petting exploitation and the awful life the cats lead in roadside zoos and back yards if they survive,” Baskin says in her rebuttal.

“There are not words for how disappointing it is to see that the docuseries not only does not do any of that, but has had the sole goal of being as salacious and sensational as possible to draw viewers,” she writes.

“As part of that (goal), it has a segment devoted to suggesting, with lies and innuendos from people who are not credible, that I had a role in the disappearance of my husband Don 21 years ago.”

According to People magazine, Don Lewis, 59, vanished in August 1997 and was never seen again. His car was found abandoned at an airport and, according to The Charley Project, the keys were on the floorboard.

The Florida Crime Information Center still has Jack Donald Lewis, who vanished Aug. 8, 1997, listed as a missing person out of Hillsborough County. At the time of his disappearance, authorities said he may have traveled to Costa Rica.

Jack Donald Jack Donald "Don" Lewis' disappearance was big news in the Tampa area. Fri, Sep 19, 1997 – 22 · Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida) · Newspapers.com

Lewis’ oldest child, Donna Pettis, told People in 1998 that his family believed Baskin was involved in his disappearance.

Baskin feeding his body to big cats would be “a perfect scenario to dispose of someone,” Pettis told the magazine. “We were upset that the cops didn’t test the DNA on the meat grinder.”

Baskin refutes the “absurd claims” about her husband and writes that Lewis was showing signs of mental deterioration for a couple of years before he vanished. She said he had begun hoarding vehicles and other equipment on the 40 acres where the sanctuary sits.

“He deteriorated into dumpster diving and even got stuck in a dumpster and called me crying because he did not know where he was,” she writes. “Back then Alzheimer’s was not a commonly used word.”

Click here to read all of Baskin’s statement refuting the claims made in the documentary.

“The series presents this without any regard for the truth or in most cases even giving me an opportunity before publication to rebut the absurd claims,” she writes. “They did not care about truth. The unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.”

Another character in the series who has disputed his portrayal is Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who runs the Myrtle Beach Safari in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Antle’s safari was recently raided by police, according to The Washington Post.

The Myrtle Beach Sun News reported that a former employee of Antle’s accuses him on the series of running his business like a cult.

Antle responded to the negative portrayal on Instagram.

“It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants,” Antle alleges. “‘Tiger King’ is the bizarre story of Joe and Carole and their feud. These characters are not representative of experts in the wildlife sector or world-class facilities like ours here in Myrtle Beach.

“Myrtle Beach Safari has been recognized by the state of South Carolina as one of the preeminent wildlife facilities in the United States. We’ve also received international accolades for the critical role we provide with our qualified, captive breeding programs and our global conservation efforts of threatened and endangered species.”

View this post on Instagram

The staff at @myrtlebeachsafari and Angada the chimp (everyone was busy) We are very disappointed that our facility was mentioned in the new Netflix series. We can only assume it is because Doc Antle has been such a high profile wildlife personality for so many decades that his association would create more buzz. It is important to understand that this series is not a documentary; it’s sensationalized entertainment with paid participants. Tiger King is the bizarre story of Joe and Carole and their feud. These characters are not representative of experts in the wildlife sector or world class facilities like ours here in Myrtle Beach. Myrtle Beach Safari has been recognized by the state of South Carolina as one of the pre-eminent wildlife facilities in the United States. We’ve also received international accolades for the critical role we provide with our qualified, captive breeding programs and our global conservation efforts of threatened and endangered species. Myrtle Beach Safari adheres to all USDA guidelines, and our animals are treated with the utmost care. We have never had a USDA violation and work collaboratively with various state and federal wildlife agencies to ensure our animals receive the very best life each and every day. Over the decades we have heard every sort of fantasy scenario regarding our facility. Many of these less-than-flattering mistruths have been manufactured by those in the animal rights movement that oppose animal ambassador programs of any sort. In the end, we hope you will come visit us and judge for yourself. Every visitor to our facility quickly recognizes the magical place we have created. All cubs are cared for cradle to grave the wild accusation that we would ever euthanize a cub is manufactured sensationalism. It’s a complete fabrication that A tiger looses its value at a certain age they all have a place. It’s Also illegal, immoral,and unjust. We remain open during these challenging times with both Day and Night Safari options. Our tours are held outdoors and our 50 acre preserve provides plenty of area for social distance. Check out tour dates and options at myrtlebeachsafari.com.

A post shared by Dr. Bhagavan Antle (@docantle) on

Crimes behind the docuseries

Federal authorities and court records give a detailed look into the crimes that sent Maldonado-Passage, of Wynnewood, Oklahoma, to prison.

Maldonado-Passage, who also goes by the name Joseph Allen Schreibvogel, had an ongoing dispute with Baskin stemming from her criticism of his wildlife center’s care, exhibition and breeding practices for big cats like lions and tigers. Baskin is the founder of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary based out of Tampa, Florida.

“Until 2011, the dispute was carried on primarily through traditional and social media,” a November 2018 indictment in the case reads.

That year, Baskin filed a civil lawsuit against Maldonado-Passage. The Tampa Bay Times reported that, in retaliation for Baskin’s outreach efforts to stop people from booking his traveling petting zoo, Maldonado-Passage had renamed the attraction “Big Cat Rescue Entertainment.”

The trademark infringement suit in February 2013 resulted in a judgment against Maldonado-Passage, requiring him to pay Baskin more than $1 million. She and her sanctuary have never received any of the money.

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‘Tiger King’: The gay, redneck tiger breeder - and failed killer - you didn’t know you needed right now

By January 2012, Maldonado-Passage’s criticism of Baskin turned to threats of violence, including threats on Facebook and YouTube. According to an interview Baskin did with the Times, the threats included a video Maldonado-Passage made of himself shooting a blow-up doll dressed to look like her.

He also produced an image of Baskin hanging in effigy, the newspaper reported.

In early November 2017, Maldonado-Passage began trying to hire a hit man to travel to Florida and kill Baskin, the indictment says.

On Nov. 6, the supposed hit man traveled from Oklahoma to Dallas to get fake identification for use when traveling to Florida. Later that month, Maldonado-Passage mailed the man’s cellphone to Nevada to conceal the proposed gunman’s involvement in the plot.

That same day, Nov. 25, Maldonado-Passage gave the man $3,000 he had received in the sale of a big cat to the man as payment for Baskin’s murder, the indictment says. Thousands more would be paid once the job was complete.

That plot never materialized. The Times reported last year that the would-be killer ran off with the money and never made it to Florida.

Jurors at Maldonado-Passage’s trial also heard that, beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a second witness to kill Baskin or to help him find someone who would. The person he went to that time went to authorities and arranged a December 2017 meeting with a supposed hit man.

The hit man was an undercover FBI agent.

“The jury heard a recording of his meeting with the agent to discuss details of the planned murder,” according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Oklahoma.

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New York health officials have already issued a warning about a rare inflammatory syndrome that has infected at least 64 children in that state. A spokesperson for Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta said they have experts for treating the symptoms regardless of a potential link to COVID-19. Families should contact their doctor or visit an emergency room if their child develops signs of illness such as high fever, rash, red eyes, abdominal pain and swelling of the face, hands or feet. US coronavirus cases top 1.6M, deaths near 98K Update 12:43 a.m. EDT May 25: The number of novel coronavirus cases in the United States surged past 1.6 million early Monday across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. According to a Johns Hopkins University tally, there are at least 1,643,238 confirmed U.S. cases of the virus, which have resulted in at least 97,720 deaths. The hardest-hit states remain New York, with 361,515 cases and 29,141 deaths, and New Jersey, with 154,154 cases and 11,138 deaths. Massachusetts, with 92,675 cases, has the third-highest number of deaths with 6,372, while Illinois has the third-highest number of cases with 110,304. Only 16 states and territories have confirmed fewer than 5,000 cases each. Seven other states have now confirmed at least 42,000 novel coronavirus cases each, including: • California: 94,020 cases, resulting in 3,754 deaths • Pennsylvania: 71,563 cases, resulting in 5,136 deaths • Texas: 55,861 cases, resulting in 1,528 deaths • Michigan: 54,679 cases, resulting in 5,228 deaths • Florida: 50,867 cases, resulting in 2,237 deaths • Maryland: 46,313 cases, resulting in 2,277 deaths • Georgia: 42,902 cases, resulting in 1,827 deaths Meanwhile, Connecticut has confirmed at least 40,468 cases; Louisiana, Virginia, Ohio and Indiana each has confirmed at least 31,000 cases; Colorado, North Carolina, Minnesota and Tennessee each has confirmed more than 20,000 cases; Washington, Iowa, Arizona and Wisconsin each has confirmed at least 15,000 cases; Alabama and Rhode Island each has confirmed more than 14,000 cases; Mississippi, Missouri and Nebraska each has confirmed at least 12,000 cases; South Carolina has confirmed at least 10,000 cases; Kansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Utah and the District of Columbia each has confirmed at least 8,000 cases, followed by Nevada with more than 7,000; New Mexico and Oklahoma each has confirmed at least 6,000 cases, followed by Arkansas with more than 5,000; South Dakota and New Hampshire each has confirmed at least 4,000 cases; and Oregon and Puerto Rico each has confirmed at least 3,000 cases. Click here to see CNN’s state-by-state breakdown. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Events traditionally held on Memorial Day and Memorial Day weekend have had to go virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, those in Atlantic Beach thought otherwise. Ten days ago the American Legion Post 129 filed a permit to host their annual Memorial Day Ceremony. Atlantic Beach Mayor Ellen Glasser says that when the request came in, she thought it was a good move towards recovery for the city. “We looked at this event in years past and the number of people that had come and we know everybody that’s involved in it and we just thought that the risk were really small for there to be a problem. We had really great cooperation in Atlantic Beach, and with the three beach communities, for social distancing. Maybe not everywhere, but certainly with a group like this coming together to honor our fallen heroes for Memorial Day and I had every expectation that people would do the right thing, and you saw it.” The ceremony honored both those who have fallen, but also those on the frontline of the COVID-19 pandemic. Clarence Hill, the President of the Beaches Veterans Memorial Park and the Past National Commander of the American Legion, spoke about the importance this day is as it reminds citizens about the price that freedom costs and how it transcends above politics. “Now during the coronavirus pandemic, the most visible heroes are the health care professionals who are saving others and risking their own lives while doing so. These heroes have much in common with the people we honor today, America’s fallen veterans. They are men and women who have sacrificed their own lives so others could live. They are both elite and ordinary,” Hill said during the ceremony. “They are elite in sense of character, giving your life so others could live is the ultimate definition of selfless. They are ordinary in the fact they represent the diverse fabric of our country. They are rich and poor, black and white, male and female. They come from every ethnicity and background. In short, they look like any one of us. Labels that we hurl today like Democrat, Republican, red state, blue state, matter little while facing minds and machine gun fire while charging a beach. Politics are irrelevant to a family that hear the words ‘we regret to inform you’.” Almost everyone attending the ceremony had a connection someway to the military. Many of the attendees knew each other and have been coming to the Atlantic Beach Memorial Day ceremony for years. Wanda Brandt, the 1st Vice President of the Legion Auxillary Department of Florida says it’s weird to not hug and kiss everyone because they are as close as family. “I find that walking around and doing my little elbow bump and wanting to kiss somebody and just make sure that they are okay is the hardest part,” Brandt said.
  • Officials with the World Health Organization announced the group has temporarily paused its trial of an antimalarial drug touted by President Donald Trump as a possible treatment for COVID-19 due to concerns over its safety. Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus of the WHO said Monday that the decision was made in light of an observational study published Friday in the medical journal The Lancet which found that coronavirus patients who were treated with hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine or a combination of either drug and an antibiotic were at a higher risk for death. “The Executive Group of the Solidarity Trial, representing 10 of the participating countries, met on Saturday and has agreed to review a comprehensive analysis and critical appraisal of all evidence available globally,” Tedros said Monday. “The review will consider data collected so far in the Solidarity Trial and, in particular, robust randomized available data, to adequately evaluate the potential benefits and harms from this drug.' Tedros said other coronavirus drug trials were continuing Monday. “This concern relates to the use of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine in COVID-19,” Tedros stressed. “I wish to reiterate that these drugs are accepted as generally safe for use in patients with autoimmune diseases or malaria.” In the study published in The Lancet, researchers reviewed more than 96,000 COVID-19 cases in which patients were hospitalized between late December and mid-April. The data used for the study, which included 15,000 cases in which patients were treated with either hydroxychloroquine, chloroquine or a combination of the drugs with an antibiotic, came from 671 hospitals on six continents, researchers said. “We were unable to confirm a benefit of hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine ... on in-hospital outcomes for COVID-19,” researchers said in a summary of their findings. “Each of these drug regimens was associated with decreased in-hospital survival and an increased frequency of ventricular arrhythmias when used for treatment of COVID-19.” Trump has dismissed concerns around the safety of hydroxychloroquine and told reporters last week that he was taking a two-week regiment of the drug to protect himself against a coronavirus infection. The president said he was not advised to take the drug but that he instead requested it himself from the White House physician. Scientists continue to race toward a vaccine for COVID-19, which White House officials have said is expected by the end of the year. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Friday that he was confident a vaccine would be ready in the timeline given by officials. “(The Department of Defense) has the expertise and the capacity of course, to get the manufacturing done and the logistics and I’m confident that we will deliver,” he said during an appearance on NBC’s “Today” show. The United States has by far the most number of COVID-19 cases in the world with more than 1.6 million reported as of Monday afternoon, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. At least 97,850 people have died of coronavirus infections nationwide, according to Johns Hopkins.
  • The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office is investigating what appears to be a hit-and-run crash involving a pedestrian in the Panama Park area early Sunday morning. Around 2 am, officers arrived at the intersection of East 61st Street and North Main Street, when they found a woman lying in the median lifeless and bleeding, with vehicle debris scattered around her. At this time, JSO has not released any information on the victim or possible suspect.

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