Tiger King star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been charged with federal money laundering crimes involving cash that allegedly came from an operation to smuggle illegal immigrants from Mexico to the U.S., the Department of Justice (DOJ) said Monday.
Antle, a controversial wild animal trainer who owns the Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, was arrested by the FBI on Friday. One of his employees and business associates, Omar Sawyer, was also taken into custody.
Antle was featured in the popular 2020 Netflix documentary series that uncovered abuse within private zoo operations and the exotic pet trade. The series focused largely on Oklahoma zoo operator Joe Exotic, who has been accused of mistreating animals and was convicted in a criminal plot to kill his enemy, Carole Baskin.
The DOJ said Tuesday that over the last four months, Antle and Sawyer laundered $505,000 in cash they believed to be the proceeds of a plot to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Southern border.
The two carried our their operation by providing checks from two separate businesses that falsely claimed they were remitted for construction work performed at the Myrtle Beach Safari, according to the DOJ. In reality, the checks were a way to allow the recipients to appear to have legitimate income, and in exchange, Antle and Sawyer received a 15 percent fee of all laundered money.
“The complaint alleges that Antle discussed his plan to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at the Myrtle Beach Safari, and that in the past he had used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use checks,” the DOJ added in an announcement.
Antle and Sawyer are currently being detained at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway, South Carolina, and now face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
This does not mark the first time Antle has faced criminal charges. The 62-year-old is also facing two felony counts of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to wildlife trafficking charges, as well as 13 misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and animal cruelty charges tied to trafficking lion cubs, according to the Associated Press.
A spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal (PETA), which has long condemned Antle’s treatment of animals, told the news outlet earlier this week that the charges against him are “fitting.”
“It’s fitting that ‘Doc’ Antle is behind bars after years of locking up the endangered animals he uses in tawdry photo ops. His legal woes are mounting,” said Debbie Metzler, associate director of PETA’s Captive Animal Law Enforcement division.