Pleads to conspiracy to commit both wildlife trafficking & money laundering
MYRTLE BEACH, South Carolina––Myrtle Beach Safari owner Kevin Antle, 63, styling himself “Bhagavan” and “Doc” for decades, on November 6, 2023 pleaded guilty in federal court to charges of conspiracy to commit both wildlife trafficking and money laundering.
“For each count,” explained a federal Department of Justice media release, “Antle faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000, and three years of supervised release.
“U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson III for the District of South Carolina accepted Antle’s guilty plea. He will sentence Antle after receiving and reviewing a sentencing report prepared by the U.S. Probation Office,” the Department of Justice media release said.
Federal convictions follow state convictions
The guilty pleas to federal charges came a month and three days after Antle on October 3, 2023 in Richmond, Virginia was fined the maximum $2,500 for each of four Virginia state felony convictions, for a total of $10,000.
Antle as result of those convictions also lost his Virginia state permit to deal in exotic wildlife for five years, and was sentenced to serve two years in prison, “with time suspended for each felony charge,” reported Tannock Blair of WRIC-TV in Richmond, Virginia.
The Institute for Greedy Exploiters & Ripoff Specialists
Antle’s 50-acre Myrtle Beach Safari zoo is formally identified as The Institute for Greatly Endangered & Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.), affiliated with a nonprofit entity called the Rare Species Fund. Both entities figured in Antle’s multiple convictions.
Explained the Department of Justice, the Robert Lacey Act of 1900, the oldest U.S. wildlife conservation law still on the books, “prohibits trafficking of illegally taken wildlife, fish or plants, including animals protected under the Endangered Species Act.
“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 one 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. Antle also requested that payments for endangered species be made to his nonprofit so they could appear as ‘donations.’”
“Transporting & harboring illegal aliens”
Continued the Department of Justice, “The investigation also uncovered evidence of money laundering between February and April 2022, when Antle and a co-conspirator conducted financial transactions with cash they believed was obtained from transporting and harboring illegal aliens.
“To conceal and disguise the nature of the illegal cash, Antle and his co-conspirator would take the cash they received and deposit it into bank accounts they controlled. They would then write a check to the individual who had provided the cash after taking a 15% fee per transaction.”
Said U.S. assistant attorney general Todd Kim, representing the Justice Department’s Environment & Natural Resources Division, “The defendant [Antle] held himself out as a conservationist, yet repeatedly violated laws protecting endangered animals and then tried to cover up those violations.”
“Tiger Kings” lose stripes
Antle is the latest of many former wildlife exhibitors exposed by the 2020 Netflix docuseries Tiger King to be convicted of a variety of offenses.
Others include Joseph Schreibvogel Maldonado Passage, the self-style “Joe Exotic,” who is now serving a 22-year prison sentence for trying to hire the murder of Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin; Tim Stark; and Jeff and Lauren Lowe.