Tiger King’s Doc Antle facing prison for 'laundering $500k from people smuggling'

6 June 2022, 23:57 | Updated: 7 June 2022, 00:36

Dr. Bhagavan Antle With Hercules The Liger
Dr. Bhagavan Antle With Hercules The Liger. Picture: Getty

By Megan Hinton

Tiger King star Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is facing 20 years in prison after being charged with laundering more than half a million dollars.

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Federal prosecutors said on Monday that the proceeds are believed to be from an operation to smuggle immigrants across the Mexican border into the United States.

Charges against Antle and Andrew Jon Sawyer, one of Antle's employees at Myrtle Beach Safari, were disclosed during a federal court hearing in Florence, South Carolina, in the US.

According to federal prosecutors, Antle and Sawyer laundered 505,000 dollars over a four-month period by doling out cheques from businesses they controlled, receiving a 15% fee of the money that passed through their hands.

The cheques, prosecutors allege, falsely purported to be payment for construction work at Myrtle Beach Safari but were in reality intended to serve as evidence that the recipients had legitimate income.

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According to the complaint disclosed in court, Antle discussed his plan to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at his 50-acre wildlife tropical reserve.

Prosecutors also said he had previously used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use cheques.

According to authorities, Antle and Sawyer each face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

Antle features prominently in Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, a 2020 Netflix documentary miniseries that focused on tiger breeders and private zoo operators in the US.

The series focused heavily on Oklahoma zoo operator Joe Exotic, who was also targeted for animal mistreatment and was convicted over a plot to kill a rival, Carole Baskin.

Animal rights advocates have accused Antle of mistreating lions and other wildlife. He was charged in Virginia in 2020 with animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking.

In May, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the Internal Revenue Service to look at Antle's Rare Species Fund, a non-profit raising money for wildlife conservation.

Peta alleges he uses some of the fund's money to subsidise his safari site in Socastee outside Myrtle Beach.

"It's fitting that 'Doc' Antle is behind bars after years of locking up the endangered animals he uses in tawdry photo ops.

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"His legal woes are mounting, as Peta recently blew the whistle on his apparent 'charity' scam, and the end to his reign of terrorising tiger cubs can't come soon enough," said Debbie Metzler, associate director of Peta's captive animal law enforcement division, in a statement.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Antle is facing two charges of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to traffic wildlife, as well as 13 counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and animal cruelty charges tied to trafficking lion cubs.

Those charges are scheduled to go to trial next month.

Antle has a history of convictions going as far back as 1989, when he was fined by the US department of agriculture for abandoning deer and peacocks at his zoo in Virginia.