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Doc Antle, 'Tiger King Star', Pleads Guilty to Fed. Wildlife Trafficking & Money Laundering Charges

Updated: Nov 24, 2023


Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, aka "The Tiger King" star, a.k.a "Joe Exotic" pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act and a conspiracy to money laundering

Doc Antle with tiger at Myrtle Beach Safari
Doc Antle with tiger at Myrtle Beach Safari

Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, a.k.a Netflix's "The Tiger King" star, a.k.a "Joe Exotic", a 63-year-old resident of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, has admitted to engaging in a conspiracy related to the violation of the Lacey Act and money laundering.


Antle is the proprietor and operator of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari, a 50-acre tropical wildlife preserve that offers tours and private encounters with rare and endangered animals. Additionally, he serves as the Director of the Rare Species Fund, a nonprofit organization registered in South Carolina.


The Lacey Act specifically prohibits the trafficking of unlawfully obtained wildlife, fish, or plants, including animals that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Antle conspired to violate the Lacey Act between September 2018 and May 2020 by facilitating the sale or purchase of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers, and one juvenile chimpanzee – all of which are protected species under the Endangered Species Act.


To conceal these transactions, Antle employed cash payments in large amounts and manipulated paperwork to falsely indicate that the transfers occurred solely within the boundaries of a single state, without any commercial purposes. He also arranged for payments related to endangered species to be made to his nonprofit organization in order to present them as "donations."



The investigation also revealed indications of money laundering in the period of February to April 2022, during which Antle and an accomplice engaged in financial transactions with funds they purported to be derived from the transportation and harboring of illegal immigrants.


In order to mask and conceal the source of the unlawful funds, the accomplice and Antle took the funds they received and deposited them into bank accounts controlled by them. They then proceeded to write a cheque to the individual who had provided the funds after incurring a 15% commission 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 Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD). “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combatting illegal trafficking, which threatens the survival of endangered animals.”


“The defendant’s guilty plea is a testament to the dedication and perseverance of the FBI and our law enforcement partners in combating illegal financial activities,” said Special Agent in Charge Steve Jensen of the FBI Columbia Field Office. “The FBI remains committed to upholding the integrity of our financial systems and ensuring justice is served.”



“Wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity, including money-laundering," said Assistant Director Edward Grace of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Law Enforcement. “This investigation revealed a pattern of illicit wildlife transactions orchestrated by the defendant under the guise of donations and false paperwork.


The Service and our partners will continue to hold accountable those involved in wildlife trafficking and other related crimes to ensure the future of all federally protected species. The Service will continue to bring to justice individuals who profit from the illegal trafficking of big cats and endangered species.”


“This plea is the product of exemplary collaboration between our law enforcement partners,” said U.S. Attorney Adair F. Boroughs for the District of South Carolina. “I commend our team for their work on this case who worked countless hours to unravel Antle’s sophisticated web of financial crimes and interstate wildlife trafficking. Our office remains committed to protecting endangered animals from those who would exploit them for profit.”


Antle could potentially face severe consequences for each count, including a prison term of up to five years, a fine of $250,000, and a three-year period of supervised release. Antle's guilty plea has been acknowledged by U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson III for the District of South Carolina, who will determine the final sentence after reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.


The case is currently under investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The prosecution of the case is being handled by Senior Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan of ENRD's Environmental Crimes Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy Bower for the District of South Carolina.



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