(The Center Square) – Myrtle Beach Safari owner and former “Tiger King” star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle faces up to five years in prison after he pleaded guilty Monday to federal charges.
Antle, 63, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and a conspiracy to launder money. The Lacey Act bans the trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Prosecutors said Antle conspired to violate the Lacey Act by directing the sale or purchase of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee – all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act between September 2018 and May 2020. Antle used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions and falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers entirely within one state. Antle also requested that payments for endangered species be made to his nonprofit so they could appear as “donations.”
Antle is the owner and operator of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari, a 50-acre wildlife preserve. The preserve offers tours and private encounters with exotic animals. Antle is also the director of the Rare Species Fund, a nonprofit group in South Carolina. He was featured in the popular 2020 Netflix documentary “Tiger King.”
The investigation uncovered evidence of money laundering between February and April 2022, when Antle and another person made financial transactions with cash they believed was obtained from transporting and harboring illegal aliens. To conceal the illegal cash, Antle and his co-conspirator would take the cash they received and deposit it into bank accounts they controlled. They would then write a check to the person who had provided the cash after taking a 15% fee per transaction, according to prosecutors.
“The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combatting illegal trafficking, which threatens the survival of endangered animals.”
For each count, Antle faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release.
U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson III for the District of South Carolina accepted Antle’s guilty plea. The judge will sentence Antle after reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
Joseph Allen Maldonado, known professionally as Joe Exotic and the biggest star “Tiger King” was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2020 after a federal jury convicted him of two counts of murder-for-hire, eight counts of violating the Lacey Act for falsifying wildlife records and nine counts of violating the Endangered Species Act,