NewsLocal NewsI-Team Investigations


'Tiger King' Joe Exotic says his immune system too weak for radiation

Joe Exotic delays cancer treatments
Joe Exotic, Joe Maldonado, Joe Schreibvoge Maldonado
Posted at 4:37 PM, Dec 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-20 05:27:43-05

BUTNER, N.C. — “Tiger King” Joe Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” said he has decided to postpone prostate cancer treatments until after he is resentenced, saying in a telephone conversation shared by his attorney with the ABC Action News I-Team that he worries his body might not be able to tolerate radiation treatment available at the Butner Federal Medical Center.

Joe gained worldwide fame through the Netflix series “Tiger King”.

He was sentenced last year to 22 years in federal prison after he was convicted of wildlife violations and a murder-for-hire plot intended to kill Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, whose wildlife preserve is located in Tampa. Joe’s sentence was overturned in July.

His attorney, John Phillips, has requested an expedited sentencing hearing, in hopes Joe may be able to get a new hearing in the coming weeks.

A motion Phillips filed in federal court Wednesday said, “Mr. Maldonado’s sentence was vacated five months ago. Here, the prejudice is obvious. The delay has caused a detrimental impact on Mr. Maldonado’s health and to delay it any further would cause additional undue stress, ultimately putting his health at greater risk. Multiple witnesses have also passed away pending resentencing and there is little to no justification for the length of the delay.”

Phillips says he plans to offer new evidence that will exonerate his client, hoping he will get more aggressive cancer treatment outside of the federal prison system.


“My body’s too weak”

Joe addressed that possibility in a taped prison phone conversation with Phillips earlier this week.

“I can pretty much promise you that the appellate court in Denver, Colorado is gonna overturn my conviction, based on the perjury. It’s absolutely crazy what went on,” he said.

Joe said he’s hoping to have a new hearing as soon as possible before his cancer prognosis worsens.

“If something happens to me between now and then, you can blame the Department of Justice for how slow this system moves when it’s involving other people’s lives and their health.”

Joe was moved to Butner in November after receiving a prostate cancer diagnosis at the prison where he was serving his sentence in Texas.

In the taped call, Joe said he doesn’t believe he can handle radiation, which his attorney said is the only course of treatment currently being proposed at Butner.

“I’ve spoken to my private doctor outside who knows me and has went through the complete medical files since I’ve been in prison. And he suggests, it’s his advice, that my immune system in my body’s too weak to handle 42 sessions of radiation,” Joe said.

Attorney Phillips said decisions related to his release should take place over the next three to 18 months, which would provide time for more advanced treatment options.

“Get the Justice Department to do the right thing”

“They can sentence me to 20 years, it ain’t gonna matter,” Joe said. “I’m gonna file a motion for a new trial and new evidence, based on perjury and fabricated evidence.”

He said he looks forward to undergoing treatment after he’s exonerated.

“When I get out, I need to take care of my immune system properly first, then undergo surgery. Chemo or radiation,” he said.

Joe Exotic also spoke directly to his fans in the phone call.

“Thanks for the support. Rally around and get the Department of Justice to do the right thing,” Joe said. “I appreciate it. I love everybody. Merry Christmas!”

If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at