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"Tiger King" star Doc Antle pleads guilty to federal wildlife trafficking charge

A wild animal trainer featured in the popular Netflix series "Tiger King" has pleaded guilty to federal wildlife trafficking charges, the Department of Justice announced Monday. 

Bhagavan "Doc" Antle pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and a conspiracy to launder money, federal prosecutors said in a news release

Antle, 63, 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. He also heads the Rare Species Fund, a nonprofit organization registered in South Carolina.

He rose to national prominence as one of the characters featured in "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness," a 2020 Netflix documentary miniseries about tiger breeders in Florida and Oklahoma.

According to prosecutors, Antle conspired to violate the Lacey Act — which prohibits the trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act — by directing the sale of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee between Sept. 2018 and May 2020. 

Animal trainer Doc Antle during an interview with host Jay Leno on May 1, 2002.
Animal trainer Doc Antle during an interview with host Jay Leno on May 1, 2002. Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank/NBCUniversal via Getty Images

"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.'"

Investigators also said Antle and a co-conspirator laundered money between Feb. and April 2022 after discovering evidence of cash transactions believed to be obtained 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."

Prosecutors said Antle took advantage of his position as a conservationist. 

For each count, Antle faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release, according to prosecutors. He is set to be sentenced after a judge reviews a report prepared by the Probation Office, prosecutors said.

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