By Associated Press - Monday, December 23, 2019

CHICKASHA, Okla. (AP) - A former Oklahoma zookeeper who was found guilty on murder-for-hire charges will be sentenced next month.

Joe Exotic, whose legal name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is being held at the Grady County Jail. He was found guilty in April of plotting to kill a woman in Florida and for violating federal laws intended to protect wildlife, according The Oklahoman. His sentencing is set for Jan. 22.

Maldonado-Passage was convicted of federal murder-for-hire charges, falsifying wildlife records and for violating the Endangered Species Act for killing five tiger cubs.

The intended target was Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, an animal sanctuary in Tampa.

Maldonado-Passage claims Baskin has been trying to force him out of business for years.

In November 2017, Maldonado-Passage paid a zoo worker cash to kill Baskin. Instead, he took the money and ran. In a second attempt, he hired another hit man who turned out to be an undercover FBI agent, prosecutors said.

“Just like follow her into a mall parking lot and just cap her and drive off,” said Maldonado-Passage in a recording shown at trial.

Prosecutors are asking U.S. District Judge Scott Palk to sentence Maldonado-Passage to a prison term within the sentencing guidelines - 27 years to 33 years and nine months.

Defense attorneys are asking for leniency, pointing out that their client is 56 and has significant health issues that make a prison term within the sentencing guidelines a potential life sentence.

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