'Tiger King' Star John Reinke Defends Joe Exotic Amid Murder-for-Hire Case (Exclusive)

Joe Exotic's former employee and friend John Reinke is standing up for the Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness subject serving a 22-year-sentence on animal abuse charges and his role in a murder-for-hire plot against Big Cat Rescue head Carole Baskin. Reinke, the former G.W. Zoo manager, told PopCulture.com recently that he stands by Joe even now — claiming that his ostentatious former boss would have never actually gone through with the murder for hire, pushed to even talk about the possibility by people working for the FBI.

"Joe would have never went that far. I truly believe that. ...He doesn’t need to be in [prison] for 22 years. I feel like he’s already been in there too long," he explained. As for the animal abuse charges, Reinke denies that any of the big cats were treated poorly under his charge. "There was no animal abuse. Those animals were being taken care of — I made sure of it," he said. "There's no way they could be turned loose. The wild doesn’t exist anymore."

Reinke hasn't spoken to Joe since he went to prison, although the former zoo operator did reach out to him upon his initial arrest. Reinke said he decided not to take the call based on Joe's "flamboyant" personality, which he feared would push him to reveal more on the recorded call than would be helpful for his legal case. As for the other subjects of the documentary, Reinke has only spoken to Joe's ex-husband John Finlay before Tiger King's release, saying everyone else is "scared to do anything" amid the ongoing federal case.

As for the complaints from Carole Baskin and "Doc" Bhagavan Antle that the documentary was sold to them differently than it ended up or that they were misrepresented, Reinke couldn't disagree more. "Netflix got it spot on. Everyone says, 'It isn’t me, it isn’t me.' Bullcrap! They got everyone spot on," he told PopCulture. "When I see it on film, no wonder everyone thinks it can't be real. But it’s real! I lived it!"

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With Tiger King a smash hit, Reinke decided to take on a different aspect of show business, appearing in Barbie & Kendra Save the Tiger King, the new Full Moon Features mockumentary comedy that follows two women who fall in love with Joe and features the voice of Will & Grace star Leslie Jordan as a young Joe.

"It was a blast," Reinke said of filming the movie, adding that he hopes it can bring a sense of levity to the mid-pandemic world. "What it is is something to get rid of all the intensity. We need a laugh right now." Barbie & Kendra Save the Tiger King is available online now at Full Moon Features.