A safari owner who rose to fame on Netflix's "Tiger King" series pleaded guilty to federal wildlife-trafficking and money-laundering charges Monday.
Bhagavan "Doc" Antle directed the sale or purchase of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and a juvenile chimpanzee which were all protected under the Endangered Species Act, the U.S. Justice Department said. These acts taking place between September 2018 to May 2020 amounted to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act, which prohibits the trafficking of illegally taken animals or plants protected under the Endangered Species Act.
The Justice Department said Antle, who owns and operates a 50-acre wildlife tropical preserve in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions involving these protected animals and that he requested payments be made to his nonprofit, the Rare Species Fund, so they could look like "donations."
"The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations," said Todd Kim, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division.
Investigators also said the wildcat enthusiast and a co-conspirator used cash "they believed was obtained from transporting and harboring illegal aliens."
"To conceal and disguise the nature of the illegal cash, Antle and his co-conspirator would take the cash they received and deposit it into bank accounts they controlled," the Justice Department 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 of five years in jail, a $250,000 fine and three years of supervised release for each count. A South Carolina district judge will sentence him after reviewing the U.S. Probation Office's report.
The 63-year-old is the owner and operator of The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species, or T.I.G.E.R.S., which is also known as Myrtle Beach Safari. The wildlife preserve offers tours and private encounters with exotic animals.
His business was featured in "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," though an Oklahoma zoo operator named Joe Exotic was the lead star.
Exotic, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, was sentenced to 21 years in federal prison last year for his murder-for-hire case against rival animal sanctuary operator Carole Baskin, who was also featured in the Netflix series.
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