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“Tiger King”'s Doc Antle Pleads Guilty to Federal Wildlife Trafficking Charges and Money Laundering

The Myrtle Beach Safari owner pleaded guilty to federal charges, prosecutors said Monday

Horry County Police Department BHAGAVAN "DOC" ANTLE MUGSHOT
Horry County Police Department BHAGAVAN "DOC" ANTLE MUGSHOT

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, best known for his appearance in Netflix’s 2020 docuseries Tiger King, has pleaded guilty to wildlife trafficking and money laundering charges, the U.S. Attorney in South Carolina announced in a press release Monday.

The former zookeeper, 63, previously owned and operated The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) — also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari.

From September 2018 to May 2020, Antle conspired to violate the Lacey Act, prosecutors said. The defendant purchased or directed the sale of species that are protected under the Endangered Species Act, including two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee.

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“The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) said, per the news release.

Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty Doc Antle
Jonathan Wiggs/The Boston Globe/Getty Doc Antle

Antle requested that payments for endangered species be made to his nonprofit so they could appear as “donations," prosecutors said. He also falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers entirely within one state and used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Assistant Director Edward Grace explained that wildlife crime is “often” connected with other crimes, such as money-laundering.

Related: Tiger King's Doc Antle Indicted on Wildlife Trafficking Charges

From February through April 2022, Antle and “a coconspirator conducted financial transactions with cash they believed was obtained from transporting and harboring illegal aliens,” per the press release. Antle and the coconspirator conducted these transactions to attempt to conceal and disguise the nature of the “illegal cash.”

The two took the cash and deposited it into bank accounts they controlled. The pair received a 15% fee for the money they laundered.

Netflix Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story.
Netflix Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story.

Antle faces a maximum of five years imprisonment 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 are continuing to investigate the case.

Antle was known as the founder of the Rare Species Fund nonprofit and the Myrtle Beach Safari owner. The Myrtle Beach Safari is a 50-acre wildlife preserve that offers tours and private encounters with exotic wildlife.

PEOPLE's request for comment from the Myrtle Beach Safari wasn't immediately returned.

Related: 'Tiger King' 's Doc Antle Charged with Money Laundering in Connection with Alleged Human Smuggling Operation

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Antle became well-known nationwide when he was featured in Netflix’s hit docuseries Tiger King. Following its release, the zoo owner slammed the series as “salacious.”

Netflix Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story. (L to R) Joe Exotic and Doc Antle in Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story.
Netflix Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story. (L to R) Joe Exotic and Doc Antle in Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story.

In October 2021, he participated in a new docuseries, Tiger Kingdom: More Than a King, in hopes that the series would paint a different picture of himself and his animal park. Two months later, Netflix released another installment of Tiger King, The Doc Antle Story, and focused on Antle, rather than Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic.

Joe Exotic, Tiger King’s original big-cat keeper subject, was found guilty in 2019 of paying a hitman $3,000 to kill Big Cat Rescue activist Carole Baskin.

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