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"Tiger King" Zookeeper Bhagavan "Doc" Antle Pleads Guilty to Federal Wildlife Trafficking and Money Laundering Charges
"Doc" Antle of Tiger King pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and conspiracy to launder money, prosecutors said.
Tiger King star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has pleaded guilty to wildlife trafficking and money laundering after illegally purchasing endangered animals, the U.S. District Attorney’s Office's South Carolina District announced Monday.
The Myrtle Beach Safari owner admitted that between September 2018 and May 2020, he oversaw the sale of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee, which are all animals protected under the Endangered Species Act, prosecutors said in a press release.
How did Bhagavan “Doc” Antle try to cover up his trafficking of wildlife?
“Antle used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions and falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers entirely within one state,” the U.S. District Attorney’s Office stated. “Antle also requested that payments for endangered species be made to his nonprofit so they could appear as ‘donations.’”
The sale was a violation of The Lacey Act, which aims to combat the illegal trafficking of endangered wildlife.
“The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations,” stated Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Edward Grace said that wildlife crimes will often be coupled with other sorts of criminal activity, including money laundering.
According to the U.S. District Attorney’s Office, Antle and a co-conspirator laundered money between February and April of 2022 with cash they believe came from “transporting and harboring illegal aliens.”
“To conceal and disguise the nature of the illegal cash, Antle and his coconspirator would take the cash they received and deposit it into bank accounts they controlled,” prosecutors said. “They would then write a check to the individual that had provided the cash after taking a 15% fee per transaction.”
Antle faces a maximum five-year prison sentence for each count, as well as a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release. The FBI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service continue to investigate the case.
The animal trainer, who was featured on the 2020 Netflix docuseries Tiger King, was convicted in June of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to wildlife traffic in Virginia. He was acquitted of five misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty. The judge in the case also dismissed four additional charges against Antle and his two adult daughters.
He received a two-year suspended sentence and was banned from owning and dealing exotic wild animals in the state for five years, the Associated Press reported.
Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari, formally known as The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), is a 50-acre tropical wildlife preserve in South Myrtle Beach, S.C., according to its website.