Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, from Netflix’s Tiger King, has recently pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.
These charges have rocked the world of exotic animal ownership and have once again shed light on the dark underbelly of the wildlife trade industry. Antle, a zoo owner known for his charismatic presence, portrayed himself as a conservationist, but the legal charges against him have exposed a different reality.
The U.S. Justice Department revealed on November 6 that Doc Antle had pleaded guilty to two significant charges: conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to violate the Lacey Act.
The Lacey Act is a federal law aimed at preventing the trafficking of illegally obtained wildlife, including species protected under the Endangered Species Act.
These charges carry the potential for a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release for each count.
Antle’s crimes are a stark contrast to the image he projected as a wildlife conservationist. Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division (ENRD) emphasized the glaring discrepancy between Antle’s public persona and his actions.
He stated, “The defendant held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations.”
The charges against Antle are deeply concerning and center around a period between September 2018 and May 2020.
During this time, Antle was found to have directed the sale or purchase of seven animals, all of which were protected under the Endangered Species Act.
These animals included two cheetah cubs, two lion cubs, two tigers, and one chimpanzee. However, the illegality of these transactions was only the tip of the iceberg.
Antle’s attempts to evade detection involved hiding transactions using bulk cash payments and forging paperwork.
He also directed payments toward his nonprofit organization, the Rare Species Fund, which operates in South Carolina.
This strategic maneuver allowed him to classify the payments as donations, thereby camouflaging the illegal nature of the transactions.
Additional evidence of money laundering came to light in the months between February and April 2022.
Antle was found to have obtained cash believed to have come from transporting and harboring immigrants who were illegally entering the country, adding another layer of criminal activity to his portfolio.
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle’s guilty plea is a significant step towards justice and sends a powerful message about the importance of protecting endangered species and curbing illegal wildlife trafficking.
The charges against Antle expose the dark side of the exotic animal trade, where charismatic appearances can often mask a world rife with criminal activities and cruelty.
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This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 8 November 2023. Image Credit :JONATHAN WIGGS/THE BOSTON GLOBE/GETTY IMAGES.