Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, star of the "Tiger King" television series, has pleaded guilty to federal wildlife trafficking and money laundering charges. Antle, who was featured in the popular Netflix documentary miniseries that focused on tiger breeders and private zoo operators in the U.S., admitted to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act and launder money.
The Lacey Act prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish, or plants, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act. Antle directed the sale or purchase of cheetah cubs, lion cubs, tigers, and a juvenile chimpanzee, all of which are protected species. He used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions and falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers within one state. Antle also requested payments for endangered species to be made to his nonprofit to appear as donations.
Antle, the owner and operator of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), a wildlife tropical preserve in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, also conducted financial transactions with cash believed to be obtained from transporting and harboring illegal aliens. To disguise the nature of the illegal cash, Antle and a co-conspirator would deposit it into bank accounts they controlled and then write a check to the individual who provided the cash, taking a 15% fee per transaction.
Animal rights advocates have accused Antle of mistreating lions and other wildlife. In 2020, he was indicted in Virginia on animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking charges. Antle has a history of recorded violations, including more than 35 USDA violations for mistreating animals.
Antle's guilty plea carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release for each count.
It is worth noting that the "Tiger King" series primarily focuses on Oklahoma zoo operator Joe Exotic, who was also convicted in a plot to kill a rival and has faced allegations of animal mistreatment.