A former US zookeeper and one-time candidate for governor was sentenced Wednesday to 22 years in prison for his role in a murder-for-hire plot and violating federal wildlife laws.

A federal judge in Oklahoma City sentenced 56-year-old Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage — who is also known as "Joe Exotic" — for trying to arrange the killing of a Florida animal sanctuary founder who criticized his treatment of animals. The woman, Carole Baskin, wasn't harmed.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage has been jailed for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme. Photo / AP
Joseph Maldonado-Passage has been jailed for his role in a murder-for-hire scheme. Photo / AP

Maldonado -Passage, who maintained his innocence, also was sentenced for killing five tigers, selling tiger cubs and falsifying wildlife records. A jury convicted him last April.

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"I still maintain my innocence and looking forward in the upcoming days to my attorneys filing my appeal and moving onto the next step in this nightmare," he said in a statement posted to his Facebook page.

Maldonado-Passage's attorneys had argued for lenience, noting he had no previous criminal convictions and that because of his poor health, a sentence within the advisory guidelines would amount to a life sentence. Prosecutors were satisfied with the sentence.