Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, the owner of an exotic animal safari in South Carolina who gained recognition from the hit Netflix documentary series “Tiger King,” pleaded guilty Monday to trafficking wildlife and money laundering, federal prosecutors said.
Antle, 63, of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, oversaw the sale or purchase of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee, all of which were protected under the Endangered Species Act, between Sept. 2018 and May 2020, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.
That violated the Lacey Act, a law that prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, prosecutors said.
Antle also pleaded guilty, prosecutors said, to conspiracy to launder money.
“Antle used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions and falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers entirely within one state,” prosecutors said. “Antle also requested that payments for endangered species be made to his nonprofit so they could appear as ‘donations.'”
Antle was known for the 2020 Netflix docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” in which he and his South Carolina safari and its big cats, were featured.
He is the owner and operator of the Myrtle Beach Safari, which is also known as the The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, T.I.G.E.R.S., prosecutors said. The safari is a 50-acre nature preserve that offers tours and the chance for private encounters with wildlife, prosecutors said.
Antle is also the director of a nonprofit registered in South Carolina called the Rare Species Fund, prosecutors said.
In addition to trafficking wildfire, an investigation also turned up evidence of money laundering committed between February 2022 and April that year.
That occurred, prosecutors said, when Antle and a co-conspirator “conducted financial transactions with cash they believed was obtained from transporting and harboring illegal aliens,” prosecutors said.
“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. They would then write a check to the individual that had provided the cash after taking a 15% fee per transaction,” prosecutors said.
This June, a jury had also acquitted Antle of five counts of animal cruelty.
Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in the statement: “The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations.
He continued, “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combatting illegal trafficking, which threatens the survival of endangered animals.”
Antle’s attorneys were not immediately available for comment Monday.
Antle faces a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, fines up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release for each count, prosecutors said.