Crime & Courts

‘Tiger King’ Star Pleads Guilty

Doc Antle facing extensive prison time …

Mahamayavi Bhagavan Antle (a.k.a. Doc Antle) – one of the stars of the Netflix smash hit Tiger King – has pleaded guilty in federal court to money laundering and violating the Lacey Act, a federal statute which “prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish or plants, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.”

Antle, 63, of Salinas, California, was arrested last June – news which was exclusively reported by this media outlet. Following his arrest, Antle and a co-conspirator were charged with money laundering crimes involving more than $500,000. Federal officials accused Antle and co-conspirator Andrew Jon Sawyer of Myrtle Beach, S.C. of laundering $505,000 which they “believed to be the proceeds of an operation to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Mexican border into the United States.”

“Antle and his coconspirator would take the cash they received and deposit it into bank accounts they controlled,” a release from federal prosecutors noted. “They would then write a check to the individual that had provided the cash after taking a 15 percent fee per transaction.”

This activity took place between February and April of last year, according to prosecutors.

The plan was for Antle to conceal the money “by inflating tourist numbers” at Myrtle Beach Safari, a fifty-acre wildlife preserve which offers tours and private encounters with exotic wildlife. Antle owns that business – officially known as The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) – as well as a nonprofit called the Rare Species Fund.

“During these encounters our guests connect with wildlife in a very intimate way which personally involves them in the lives of these amazing animals,” the T.I.G.E.R.S./ Rare Species Fund website noted. “They then walk away into the world with a desire to save these creatures and help preserve their environments.”

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Antle also pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act between September 2018 and May 2020, during which time he directed “the sale or purchase of two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers and one juvenile chimpanzee.” According to prosecutors, Antle “used bulk cash payments to hide the transactions and falsified paperwork to show non-commercial transfers entirely within one state.”

He also directed payments for endangered species to his nonprofit so as to make the appear to be “donations,” according to the feds.

“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 (ENRD) said in a statement. “This prosecution demonstrates our commitment to combatting illegal trafficking, which threatens the survival of endangered animals.”

Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) led the investigation, with state special agent in charge Steve Jensen crediting his agency’s commitment to “upholding the integrity of our financial systems and ensuring justice is served.

FWS assistant director Edward Grace also praised the outcome of the operation, which he said exposed “a pattern of illicit wildlife transactions orchestrated by the defendant under the guise of donations and false paperwork.”

(Click to view)

(Getty Images)

“Wildlife crime is often connected with other criminal activity, including money-laundering,” he said, touting the collaboration of federal agencies in continuing “to hold accountable those involved in wildlife trafficking and other related crimes to ensure the future of all federally protected species.”

Antle appeared in the first season of the Netflix hit Tiger King in 2020 – playing a starring role in a show which scored a staggering 34.3 million viewers during its first ten days of release. He was also the focus of a follow-up documentary entitled Tiger King: The Doc Antle Story – which aired in December 2021.

Antle has yet to be sentenced on these charges. For each count, he faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release. Antle’s guilty plea was received by U.S. district court judge Joseph Dawson III. A South Carolina native, Dawson will sentence Antle after “receiving and reviewing a sentencing report” prepared by the U.S. Probation Office.

Antle’s case was prosecuted by senior trial attorney Patrick M. Duggan of ERND, assistant U.S. attorney Amy Bower and former U.S. attorney Derek Shoemake.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR …

Will Folks (Dylan Nolan)

Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.

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