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New evidence presented to White House to support pardon of 'Tiger King' Joe Exotic

Audiotapes raise questions about prior testimony
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Posted at 11:28 PM, Jan 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-19 14:23:28-05

TAMPA, Fla. — New evidence has been sent to the outgoing Trump administration for their consideration when deciding whether to grant a pardon to Joe Exotic, made famous last year by a Netflix documentary.

The I-Team has learned from people close to the now-imprisoned reality TV star that his legal team has obtained audiotapes they hope will free the Tiger King.

If you are a Netflix subscriber, you probably watched Tiger King during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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It’s the salacious story of how an Oklahoma zookeeper went to war against Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, who lives here in Tampa.

Joe, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, ended up in prison after being convicted of hiring a hit man to have Baskin killed.

“Maldonado had made his threats online over a period of years,” Baskin told ABC Action News shortly after his arrest.

“There are a lot of crazy characters. A lot of twists and turns. And just when you think you can’t get any more strange it does,” said retired U.S. Secret Service Agent Jim Rathmann.

He teamed up with television producer Theresa McKeown to investigate Joe’s case for the documentary “Joe Exotic: Tigers, Lies and Cover-Up” which is streaming now on

“There’s so much more information that’s going to come out over time. There’s so much, it’s overwhelming,” said McKeown. “When I saw that article last night that Trump has 100 people he’s gonna pardon, I’m thinking Joe’s probably one of them. Or so I hope.”

“There are 257 pages for the pardon. That’s made it up to its way to the White House. But what they’ve gotten recently is this new evidence,” said Rathmann.

Rathmann, now a private investigator, first talked to Joe last year when the Investigation Discovery Network hired him to look into the case of Baskins’ missing husband, Don Lewis.

McKeown, a former Inside Edition producer, met Joe Exotic in 2014 when he pitched a reality show.

“He was such a live wire and he was at war with PETA at the time, so none of the networks really wanted anything to do with it,” she said.

In recent months, McKeown and Rathmann have helped uncover issues with Joe’s original trial that could be used in his pardon application and appeal.


“You find your evidence and you let the evidence take you wherever the case is going to take you. And in this particular case keeps bringing me down the path that this murder for hire never happened,” said Rathmann.

Rathmann and McKeown were recently contacted by former Indiana zoo owner Tim Stark, who knows most of the people in the Tiger King.

Stark, who faces multiple criminal charges in Indiana related to the operation of his zoo, provided Rathmann and McKeown with tapes of phone conversations he believes calls into question the testimony of some witnesses.

Stark confirmed to the I-Team that he recorded the phone calls, the nature of the contents and that he provided them to Rathmann and McKeown.

“It’s pretty explosive, in my opinion. I’m not an attorney, but I’m looking at that going ‘Oh my God!’” said McKeown.

They say recordings were rushed to the White House as part of the pardon application. Rathmann says they will also be used by Joe Exotic’s attorneys in an upcoming appeal.

“I would have loved this information to have been out two years ago before his trial so he never would have been convicted overall. But since that isn’t what happened, it’s better late than never. And in this particular case, he has an appeal. He has oral arguments that are coming up on the 20, which is also the same day as the inauguration,” said Rathmann.

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