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Judge gives control of Joe Exotic's zoo to Carole Baskin

Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin walks the

Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin walks the facility's property near Tampa, Fla., in July 2017.  Credit: AP / Loren Elliott

Carole Baskin, Joe Exotic's nemesis in the hit Netflix documentary series "Tiger King," has been awarded ownership of the incarcerated Exotic's zoo.

U.S. District Judge Scott Palk on Monday ruled that Joseph Maldonado-Passage, aka Joe Exotic, had fraudulently transferred ownership of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, aka G.W. Zoo, in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, to his mother to avoid paying a $1 million court judgment against him. Under the name Joe Schreibvogel, Maldonado-Passage had lost a nearly $1 million trademark-infringement lawsuit to Baskin in 2013.

The zoo animals must be removed from the property within 120 days, the ruling said. It did not detail what should happen to them.

Animal activist Baskin, proprietor of the Florida sanctuary Big Cat Rescue and a frequent critic of Maldonado-Passage, had sued Exotic's mother, Shirley M. Schreibvogel, in 2016, stating in the lawsuit, "Schreibvogel … admitted under oath that the zoo land was transferred to her by Joe Maldonado to remove it from the reach of creditors, including BCR."

In a statement to Newsday, Big Cat Rescue official Howard Baskin said, "In an Agreed Judgment in August 2019, Shirley Schreibvogel acknowledged her role in multiple fraudulent transfers, some of which involved the entity controlled by [Jeff] Lowe," an investor in G.W. Zoo who previously announced plans to rebrand it and move it to Thackerville, Oklahoma.

Lowe, the statement continued, "recently stated that he had funds to complete the zoo and a contractor who could complete it in a few months. If the need arises to make other plans to place the animals in new homes, Big Cat Rescue and the animal welfare organizations that have previously successfully placed big cats from large facilities in new homes stand ready to assist."

"We have long anticipated that the judge would eventually undo the 2016 land transfer," Lowe told TMZ.com. "We are thankful that he dragged out his decision this long and allowed us time to complete the new" facility. Lowe told the Oklahoma City TV station KOCO, "After spending $2.5 million to secure a million-dollar judgment against Joe, we feel that her securing this land is the appropriate outcome."

Maldonado-Passage last year was found guilty of charges that included killing five tigers and a murder-for-hire plot after paying an undercover FBI agent $3,000 to kill Carole Baskin. In January, Maldonado-Passage was sentenced to 22 years in prison. He is appealing that conviction.

In a handwritten letter Monday on a Twitter account attributed to Joe Exotic and run by the company Media Exotic, Maldonado-Passage asks fans to "please keep my story alive and please keep asking our dear president to make this right and pardon me."

A second, graphical-text post claims he is being held in "unexplained solitary confinement" in prison, "and is being denied regular consultations with his attorneys." It was unclear if federal public defender Bill Earley, his attorney in the criminal case, still represented him. The Western District of Oklahoma public defender office did not respond to a query.

According to the Courthouse News Service, Maldonado-Passage is currently at Texas' Federal Medical Center Fort Worth, where he was transferred in March when fellow inmates at his Oklahoma county jail tested positive for COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Maldonado-Passage's purported account tweeted, "Carole Baskin taking my zoo is a tragedy."

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