Animal Welfare

Exotic Cat Rancher Linked to Tiger King Locked Up On Federal Gun Charges

When federal agents searched Paul Michael Malagerio's property, they found a mountain lion he kept there.
When federal agents searched Paul Michael Malagerio's property, they found a mountain lion he kept there. "Mountain Lion resting 4" by D Coetzee is marked with CC0 1.0
click to enlarge When federal agents searched Paul Michael Malagerio's property, they found a mountain lion he kept there. - "MOUNTAIN LION RESTING 4" BY D COETZEE IS MARKED WITH CC0 1.0
When federal agents searched Paul Michael Malagerio's property, they found a mountain lion he kept there.
"Mountain Lion resting 4" by D Coetzee is marked with CC0 1.0
Paul Michael Malagerio came to the U.S. on a visitor visa from his home country of Canada in 2002. He was supposed to leave or renew his visa the following year, but he never did and stuck around anyway.

For the next 28 months, Malagerio will be locked up in federal prison for his visa overstay and illegally possessing three firearms.

In the years since he came to the U.S., Malagerio has worked on the Whitley Acres Exotic Ranch & Stables in Levelland. The ranch sports kangaroos, zebras, camels and more for adults and school children alike to pet, hold and even ride. (No one was riding the kangaroos to our knowledge.) They host birthday and Super Bowl parties, school assemblies and other community events for about $150 a pop, according to thebash.com, an event booking website.

Malagerio even worked with James Garretson at one point, the exotic cat enthusiast and FBI informant featured in the Netflix docuseries Tiger King.

Last November, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Enforcement and Removal Operations (ICE ERO) officers paid Malagerio a visit on the ranch. Malagerio saw a man walking toward his trailer with the owner of the property, Jason Whitley. During cross-examination in court, Malagerio said he knew something was up but didn't know what it was.

He thought maybe an animal had gotten out, or someone's dog made it onto the ranch, a dangerous place for a house pet. When Malagerio opened the door to his trailer, an officer had the barrel of a shotgun pointed directly at his face, about 6 feet away.

Paul Michael Malagerio jailhouse call

United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Texas

This audio was admitted into evidence during Paul Michael Malagerio's trial.


Malagerio was interviewed by ERO officer Dusty Rowden. Court documents say Malagerio told the officer he knew he was in the country illegally and without any pending immigration paperwork. However, in court he said he never admitted to this and refuted the claim that he was in the country without authorization.

When asked in court, "You are in the United States illegally. You don't have a document to be here. Correct?" Malagerio answered, "No, I don't."

He initially came to the U.S. to shack up with a woman he’d met, Malagerio told Tim Raymond, a special agent with Homeland Security.

Malagerio was living in a trailer when ICE officers came knocking on his door. After questioning him, officers needed to find his Canadian passport. Court documents say Malagerio was read his Miranda rights and gave officers consent to search his home to find it. In court, Malagerio said the officers were lying about this, that he was never read his rights and he didn't give them consent to search his trailer.

Officers found he had three guns he claimed he bought from a retired police officer. They recovered a DPMS Panther Arms AR-15, an Escort shotgun and a Springfield Arms 9mm pistol. Because Malagerio was in the country illegally, he’s not allowed to possess any firearms. Officers also found a mountain lion Malagerio kept on the property.

“So I’m guilty of it, but can we plead where I can go and pack my stuff, my animals… and leave with my tail between my legs?” – Paul Michael Malagerio, exotic cat rancher

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Investigators say Malagerio also admitted in jailhouse phone calls that he knew he was in the country illegally and said he hoped to just be able to take his belongings and leave the U.S.

“So I’m guilty of it, but can we plead where I can go and pack my stuff, my animals and leave with my tail between my legs?” he asked.

In a later jailhouse call, he told a friend he thought Tiger King’s Garretson had something to do with his arrest. “James [Garretson] is the only one that knows where I am, and he threatened to do this about a month ago,” Malagerio told his friend.

Homeland Security, ICE ERO, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives’ Dallas Field Division all took part in investigating Malagerio, along with the Texas Game Wardens' help.

After a two-day trial in March, a federal grand jury convicted Malagerio. Last Thursday, he was handed his 28-month sentence.
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Jacob Vaughn, a former Brookhaven College journalism student, has written for the Observer since 2018, first as clubs editor. More recently, he's been in the news section as a staff writer covering City Hall, the Dallas Police Department and whatever else editors throw his way.
Contact: Jacob Vaughn