An exotic wildlife preserve owner who gained notoriety on the popular Netflix series “Tiger King” plead guilty Monday to animal trafficking and money laundering, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle oversaw the sale or purchase of cheetah cubs, lion cubs, tigers and a juvenile chimpanzee that were all protected as endangered species, according to a Justice Department release. Officials said the 63-year-old man featured in a documentary miniseries about the tiger trade tried to hide animal payments as “donations” to his nonprofit organization.
“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 said in a statement.
Antle faces a maximum of five years’ imprisonment, fines up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release for each count. He operates Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina and is the founder of a nonprofit registered in the state called the Rare Species Fund.
Investigators found evidence that Antle and a coconspirator had also used cash acquired through the transportation and harboring of immigrants who illegally entered the country.
A jury this June acquitted Antle of five counts of animal cruelty. The judge in that case dismissed four more animal cruelty charges facing Antle and all charges against his two adult daughters.
It's the latest fallout for the subjects of “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” Joe Exotic, the show's star, is serving a 21-year prison sentence for trying to hire two different men to kill animal welfare activist Carol Baskin. The ongoing feud between Joe Exotic — whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage — and Baskin featured prominently in the show. Maldonado-Passage had one year shaved off his penalty last year as he began treatment for early-stage cancer.
Pollard is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.