A Federal Appeals court has ruled this week that Joe Passage-Maldonado, who goes by Joe Exotic and was featured in the hit Netflix docu-series, is entitled to be resentenced to a shorter sentence. He was sentenced last year for an attempted murder-for-hire plot and for the killing of several endangered tigers at his former zoo. He was sentenced to 22 years for al the charges, but the court ruled this week that his sentencing guidelines were improperly scored too high. The court found that the sentencing judge improperly treated his two convictions for attempted murder separately, as they evinced a common criminal purpose. When scored as one conviction, will substantially lower the minimum guideline sentence.
With the ruling, the guideline range minimum will go from 22 years down to 17 and a half years. There will be a new sentencing hearing, and Joe’s attorney will likely push for the court to go even lower than 17 years, especially in light of Mr. Passage-Maldonado’s health issues. Joe has indicated in statements that he does not expect to survive the sentence, as he is suffering prostate cancer. The court has the option to sentence him within the range indicated by the guidelines- last time he was sentenced at the bottom of the range, as he has no priors or other aggravators. One would anticipate the sentence would go down, as the range has shifted down, but the court can consider other factors, if new information is presented, which could convince the court to go below the guideline range. A new hearing will be set some weeks down the road.
Candidly, I did not know it was illegal to keep raccoons as pets, and have never seen anybody charged with it. The Florida administrative code has classified several native species so that they cannot be kept without a permit if they are taken from the wild. Included under this classification are also skunks, bats, fox and whitetail deer- so no trying to keep Bambi! There is no restriction on keeping rats, mice, squirrels, chipmunks and most of the commonly kept pet animals.
Tori Parsons, of Venice, Florida was cited after a neighbor reported she was keeping racoons as pets. She only ended up getting arrested when she failed to appear for court, and got a bench warrant, though she has since bonded out. The charge is criminal, but it is only a second degree misdemeanor, the least serious criminal offense in Florida. FWC gave her three days to transport and surrender the animals to a licensed wildlife facility, and it was only when she failed to do so that she was cited.
As always, Crimcourts will stay on top of all wildlife related criminal news. Which reminds me, I didn’t get to report on the recent story about Florida Flying Squirrels. National Geographic reports that thousands of Southern Flying Squirrels may have been illegally trapped for the pet trade, and shipped overseas to places like South Korea. Rodney Knox and 5 of his associates are facing charges as serious as racketeering for the ongoing operation. Knox runs a farm and breeding operation, but FWC alleges that was a front for an illegal capture business, and Knox has a history running afoul of breeding regulations, including a warning for trapping flying squirrels. This operation rivals the time FWC set up a fake alligator farm to catch egg poachers!
A Florida man was sentenced for his part in a scheme to traffic in Water Monitor lizards from the Philippines. Adbar Akram and an accomplice in Massachusetts imported lizards that were taped into socks, and then concealed in audio speakers and other electronic equipment. Akram admitted to his part in the scheme, and to selling lizards to buyers around the United States. All this is illegal, and he was sentenced to 4 years of probation with 90 days home detention and 288 hours of community service. Don’t smuggle wildlife!
Two Fort Myers men are charged in a turtle trafficking ring that may have netted tens of thousands of dollars. It’s the largest turtle theft bust in Florida history, and the turtles recovered had a black market value of $200,000. FWC alleges that Michael Clemons and Michael Boesenberg were selling wild-caught turtles to overseas interests for money and sometimes for marijuana.
Some of the rescued turtles
It’s important to police wildlife violations to protect the fauna of Florida. FWC says Lee County was hardest hit, and that local turtle populations may be substantially affected. The good news is that more than 600 turtles were rescued and returned to the wild.