Joe Exotic murder-for-hire trial begins

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KXII) - Jury selection began Tuesday for the trial of a former zoo owner and Oklahoma gubernatorial candidate.

Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as "Joe Exotic," is facing charges in an alleged murder-for-hire plot and several federal wildlife charges for killing tigers and selling cubs in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

Prosecutors allege Maldonado-Passage hired someone to murder the operator of a Florida-based animal sanctuary in November 2017.

According to the indictment, Maldonado-Passage gave the unnamed person $3,000 to travel from Oklahoma to South Carolina and then to Florida to carry out the murder.

In a second count, the indictment alleges that beginning in July 2016, Maldonado-Passage repeatedly asked a different unnamed person to find someone to murder the woman in exchange for money.

The second person put Maldonado-Passage in contact with an undercover FBI agent. Maldonado-Passage met with the undercover agent on December 8, 2017, to discuss details of murdering the woman.

The woman did not suffer any physical harm.

If Maldonado-Passage is found guilty of murder-for-hire, he could be imprisoned on each count up to ten years.

A Federal Grand Jury also indicted Madonado in 2018 for shooting and killing five endangered tigers to make room for new "big cats" someone was paying him to house at his Wynnewood Animal Park in Garvin County.

The trial is set to start March 25, but could be pushed to April.

Maldonado-Passage denied all charges against him.

His trial is taking place at the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City.

Maldonado-Passage ran unsuccessfully for the Libertarian nomination for Oklahoma governor last year.