Netflix has a certifiable viral hit on their hands in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, the true crime documentary series about Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage. Now it seems the subject himself is trying to capitalize on the spike in interest in his case by suing a pair of government agencies plus his former business partner, Jeffrey Lowe, for a cumulative $95 million in damages.
According to PEOPLE, which obtained a copy of the lawsuit, the imprisoned former Oklahoma zookeeper and country music wannabe is suing the US Department of Interior, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and a number of government agents. In addition to claims of civil rights violations, Maldonado-Passage is seeking $73,840,000 for loss of personal property, 18 years of research, and the care of 200 generic tigers and cross-breeds at a rate of $60 per day per animal. There’s also $15 million for false arrest, false imprisonment, and selective enforcement, all of which he says directly contributed to the death of his mother, Shirley.
Maldonado-Passage alleges that he was personally targeted by the US agencies when they put a “generic animal” — specifically, a tiger — on the endangered species list. This, says Joe Exotic, was so they could promote their “animal rights agenda” by filing charges against him. What’s more, he claims he became the focus of the agenda “because [he] is an openly gay male with the largest collection of generic tigers and crossbreeds.”
The suit goes on to allege that one specific wildlife agent “knowingly accepted statements he knew were false, allowing his witnesses to lie under oath. Misleading a grand jury and not seeking the truth to further an animal rights agenda.”
Lowe is also named in the suit on similar allegations. Maldonado-Passage says Lowe filed false statements to federal agents because he “had the most to gain” from Shirley’s death, making him “the main person in this entrapment scheme to take my zoo for free.” Maldonado-Passage claims Lowe switched his medicine to “illegal drugs” and “stole [his] animals under fraudulent reasons.” He also says his former business partner had Shirley’s body cremated before the announcement of her passing to make him “the sole owner of the zoo land and all assets…”
Lowe’s wife, Lauren Lowe, told PEOPLE the family isn’t terribly worried about the lawsuit. “He has to be approved by a judge in order for it to go through and we have been told that it has a chance of not being approved,” she said.
Speaking about caring for the tigers now in their care at the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, she added,
“They are our family. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You give up a lot to care for these animals and we are going to keep doing that… We want to make sure they live well. Joe abandoned all these cats. We spend countless dollars just trying to bring these guys back up to health and making sure they get the best food they can get and healthcare too.”
Maldonado-Passage is currently serving 22 years in Oklahoma’s Grandy County Jail for attempted murder and illegally killing some of his tigers to make room for new big cats. In 2019, he was found guilty of paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Carole Baskin, a rival animal activist who runs the Big Cat Rescue sanctuary outside of Tampa, Florida.
In the new lawsuit, Maldonado-Passage admits to putting down five of his tigers, but says he “humanely euthanized” them after they suffered “14 years of painful walking on declawed paws to the point that they were crippled.”
Baskin, who has also taken issue with Tiger King for its insinuation that she was involved in the disappearance of her millionaire husband, Don Lewis, could not be reached for comment. Lewis disappeared in 1997 and was declared legally dead in 2002, with most of his estate being left to Baskin.