CHARLESTON, S.C. (WBTW) – Myrtle Beach Safari owner Bhagavan “Doc” Antle pleaded guilty Monday morning to federal conspiracy and money laundering charges, according to the U.S. Justice Department.
Antle, 63, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and conspiracy to launder money, the DOJ said in a news release. The Lacey Act prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish or plants, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Antle, the former ‘Tiger King’ star, faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release for each count. South Carolina U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Dawson III accepted Antle’s guilty plea and will sentence him after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.
It’s not the first conviction for Antle. In June, he was found guilty in Virginia of two felony counts of wildlife trafficking and two felony counts of conspiracy to traffic wildlife. Authorities said he illegally bought endangered lion cubs in Frederick County, Virginia, that were later put on display in Myrtle Beach.
The Myrtle Beach Safari is a 50-acre wildlife tropical preserve that offers tours and private encounters with exotic wildlife. Antle is also the director of the Rare Species Fund, a nonprofit organization registered in South Carolina.
According to the DOJ, Antle conspired to violate the Lacey Act between September 2018 and May 2020 by directing the sale or purchase of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers, and a juvenile chimpanzee — all of which are protected under the Endangered Species Act.
Antle used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions and falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers entirely within one state, investigators found. Antle also requested that payments for endangered species be made to his nonprofit so they could appear as “donations,” the DOJ said.
The investigation also uncovered evidence of money laundering between February and April 2022, when Antle and a coconspirator conducted financial transactions with cash that they believed was obtained from transporting and harboring immigrants who illegally entered the country. To conceal the nature of the illegal cash, Antle and a co-conspirator took the cash they received and deposited it into accounts they controlled, investigators said, before writing a check to the individual who had provided the cash, minus a 15% fee per transaction.
“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 Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combatting illegal trafficking, which threatens the survival of endangered animals.”
Antle pleaded guilty in July 2022 to three wildlife trafficking charges.