Tiger King's Joe Exotic Was Kicked Out of a 2016 Trump Fundraiser by Secret Service, Ex-Partner Says
“The Secret Service there thought Joe posed a potential threat," Jeff Lowe tells PEOPLE
Joe Exotic's quixotic quest to be elected president in 2016 didn't get him very close to the White House, but it did bring him closer to the man who ended up winning.
That failed meeting didn't go too well, though.
Jeff Lowe, a business partner-turned-enemy of Exotic (né Joe Maldonado-Passage), tells PEOPLE that the Tiger King star once paid $1,000 to attend a fundraiser for Donald Trump in Moore, Oklahoma, in 2016. Exotic was then mounting a mail-in candidacy for the presidency.
“The Secret Service there thought Joe posed a potential threat," Lowe says, and they had Exotic, 57, "forcibly removed."
"He thought he was going to rub shoulders with Donald Trump. And when Secret Service realized who he was, they removed him from the party," says Lowe.
(Lowe also isn't too fond of Exotic's pleas for a presidential pardon from his murder-for-hire conviction: "I think Joe truly believes his narcissism makes him believe that that's a possibility.")
Exotic — whose feud with animal sanctuary founder Carole Baskin fueled the Netflix docuseries — has previously told the story of his fundraiser altercation, though he described it differently than Lowe.
He told an Oklahoma City website in 2016 that when he went to the fundraiser, he ran into a problem after he stepped outside for a cigarette and tried to return. "I made it through the second security stop and Secret Service threw me out," he said then.
"They didn't give me an excuse other than 'once you leave, you cannot come back in' — it don't matter how much money you pay," he said. "And they refused to give me my money back."
NonDoc Media, the website, also recorded Exotic telling two other bystanders that "it all started when I showed my ID ... and he saw that I had a carry permit, even though I ain't got a gun, threw me out. So much for your rights in this country." (A Trump campaign spokesman and the Secret Service did not respond to questions from PEOPLE.)
While Exotic has maintained his innocence, last week a a federal judge granted Baskin control of his former properties in Oklahoma — including the zoo Lowe ran amid Exotic's legal troubles — after it was determined they were fraudulently transferred to his mother.
“She was bound to get it and Joe knew that,” his husband, Dillon Passage, tells PEOPLE. “When we left the zoo initially, he was already done with it. He was like, ‘There’s so much bad blood, bad memories there.’ ”
Lowe, who has 120 days to vacate the premises with wife Lauren, plans to open his new Tiger King Park in Thackerville, Oklahoma, in August.
"Every day," he tells PEOPLE, "we get up and say we can’t wait to be out of here."
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