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‘Tiger King’ star pleads guilty to trafficking endangered species

By Devon M. Sayers, CNN

(CNN) — Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, who appeared in the 2020 Netflix docuseries “Tiger King,” has pleaded guilty to wildlife trafficking and money laundering charges, according to federal court records.

Antle, 63, who is not the first figure from “Tiger King” to face criminal charges, admitted in court to 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, the US Attorney in South Carolina said in a news release.

“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’,” the release said.

“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, said in the news release.

Antle owns a private zoo in South Carolina called Myrtle Beach Safari, which was featured in “Tiger King.” He’s previously said he was “very disappointed” in his portrayal in the documentary, CNN affiliate WPDE-TV reported.

Antle faces up to five years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and three years of supervised release for each count, according to the US Attorney.

The show became a bizarre pandemic obsession among many viewers who watched even while questioning the tactics – and feuds – of the show’s star known as “Joe Exotic,” who presided over a menagerie of big cats at a sprawling zoo in Oklahoma.

Joseph Maldonado-Passage was convicted in 2019 in a murder-for-hire plot against animal rights activist Carole Baskin as well as other crimes that include animal abuse. Baskin, who once owned a tiger sanctuary in Florida and secured a million-dollar judgment against him, had a long-standing feud with Maldonado-Passage that was chronicled in the “Tiger King” series. His sentence was later reduced for medical reasons.

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CNN’s Jennifer Henderson contributed to this report.

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