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Fact check: 'Tiger King' star Joe Exotic did not receive Trump pardon

McKenzie Sadeghi, USA TODAY
·4 min read
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The claim: Donald Trump granted a pardon to 'Tiger King' star Joe Exotic

In his final hours in office, now-former President Donald Trump granted pardons to 74 people and commuted the sentences of 70, including political allies, high-profile criminals and some unknown figures.

A viral social media post claims among those pardoned was "Tiger King" Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic. The former wildlife park owner was sentenced to 22 years in prison for his role in a 2017 murder-for-hire plot to kill his rival, Big Cat Rescue CEO Carole Baskin, and for violating federal wildlife laws.

"Trump to pardon Tiger King star Joe Exotic before he exits office," reads a Jan. 19 post by Instagram personality George Resch, who goes by "Tank Sinatra," according to Patch.

The post, which has over 52,000 likes, appears as a screenshot of an article from MomusFeed News and is captioned, "I knew it."

In a message to USA TODAY, Resch said he made the post before the rumor went around that Joe Exotic might be pardoned. He said the post was "100% intended to be a joke."

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Joe Exotic did not get Trump pardon

While Trump granted clemency to celebrities such as Lil Wayne and Kodak Black, Maldonado-Passage was not on the list, according to CBS News.

"Joseph Maldonado-Passage" is absent from Trump's full list of pardons on Jan. 20.

Maldonado-Passage was arrested in 2018 and found guilty of 19 counts, including attempted murder for hire, killing five tigers and the selling of lion and tiger cubs, USA TODAY reported. He is housed at the Federal Medical Center, a 1,500-inmate facility in Forth Worth, Texas.

Private investigator Eric Love spearheaded the campaign to free Maldonado-Passage, and Love was standing by all day on Jan. 19 with a stretch Dodge limo ready to pick him up from prison, CBS DFW reported. Supporters also lined up outside the Federal Medical Center in hopes of seeing the Netflix star be released.

“We disproved the government’s case, we have laid it all out on the line, we know that President Trump has been targeted himself like Joe,” Love said on Jan. 19, according to The Dallas Morning News. “The pardon will drop today.”

Love said he was sure Maldonado-Passage would be pardoned because "Donald Trump Jr. is a fan of the show" and because "some people are behind the scenes."

Maldonado-Passage filed an application with the U.S. Department of Justice in September, in which his attorneys stated that he maintains his innocence and was "railroaded and betrayed" by others, according to the Associated Press.

In a statement to Insider on Joe Exotic's failure to receive a presidential pardon, Maldonado-Passage's legal representative Brad Small said, "Score remains 0:0 at the end of the first quarter. After an aggressive first quarter Hail Mary, team tiger didn't score. Three quarters to go."

When asked in April during a press briefing whether he would pardon Joe Exotic, Trump said he would "take a look," ABC Action News reported.

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Our rating: False

The claim that Donald Trump pardoned Joe Exotic is FALSE, based on our research. His real name, Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is not included on the list of pardons announced on Jan. 20. A statement from Joe Exotic's attorney further confirms that his legal team is aware he did not receive a pardon.

Our fact-check sources:

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: 'Tiger King' Joe Exotic skipped over in Trump pardons