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'Tiger King' star Doc Antle can leave SC to see relative amid laundering, wildlife charges

Florence court (copy)

A federal judge modified Antle's bond that will allow him to visit a family member in Georgia. File/Staff

FLORENCE — "Tiger King" star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle, facing federal money laundering and wildlife trafficking charges, can leave his Myrtle Beach-area business and home to visit a relative in Georgia, a federal judge ruled.

Antle has been confined to the popular 50-acre Myrtle Beach Safari since his June arrest, but his $250,000 bond was modified April 18 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers after a motion from his lawyers.

The motion asked Rogers to remove the bond conditions of Antle’s home detention and location monitoring and give the U.S. Probation Office authority to let him to leave the wildlife preserve to visit an unidentified family member. The person was seriously injured and is obtaining treatment at an undisclosed facility in the Atlanta area.

Antle’s lawyers argued that he has complied with the terms of his bond conditions that were set June 28, which include home detention, not leaving the state, surrendering his passport and not possessing a weapon.

Federal officials in response to the motion consented to Antle’s bond modification.

The ruling by Rogers comes two months after U.S. District Judge Joseph Dawson granted the controversial tiger handler a continuance of his pretrial conference and jury selection dates until October.

In February, it was revealed through court documents that federal prosecutors have sent more than 37,000 items of evidence to Antle’s lawyers. They anticipate even more in the request for the delay. Additionally, his lawyers said potential witnesses are located in multiple states.

Antle’s case has received national attention because he was featured on the hit Netflix series “Tiger King,” about animal handler and zoo operator Joe Exotic, who was sent to prison in a plot to kill a rival, Carole Baskin.

The Myrtle Beach Safari owner has been a troubled figure among animal rights advocates, including Baskin, who have accused him of mistreating lions and other wildlife and allowing people to hold the animals at Myrtle Beach Safari.

In June, Antle was one of five people named in a 10-count federal indictment for wildlife trafficking and money laundering.

The indictment and a previous federal complaint allege that Antle and one of his Myrtle Beach Safari employees, Andrew Sawyer, laundered more than $500,000 they thought were “proceeds of an operation to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Mexican border into the United States,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The duo allegedly concealed the money by providing checks from a business controlled by Antle and a business controlled by Sawyer.

Antle and Sawyer claimed the checks were for construction work at the 50-acre wildlife preserve in Socastee outside Myrtle Beach, but federal officials countered the checks were written to make the pair “appear to have legitimate income,” court documents said.

Antle and Sawyer, who allegedly both received a 15 percent fee of any amount laundered, are facing up to 20 years in federal prison for the money laundering charges and up to five years for the wildlife trafficking charges.

According to the indictment, Antle, along with Meredith Bybee of Myrtle Beach, Charles Sammut of Salinas, California, and Jason Clay of Franklin, Texas, also allegedly trafficked and falsified records regarding wildlife. The animals involved included lemurs, cheetahs and a chimpanzee.

In February, Judge Dawson dismissed the charges that Sammut, the owner and operator of Vision Quest Ranch in California, was facing, after federal prosecutors said moving forward with his case would not “serve the interests of justice,” court documents said.

Antle has received more than 35 U.S. Department of Agriculture violations over the years for mistreating animals, and he is also facing animal cruelty charges in Virginia tied to trafficking lion cubs but has never been convicted.

His next Virginia court appearance is scheduled for June.

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Follow Richard Caines on Twitter at @rickcaines

Richard Caines is a business reporter for The Post & Courier - Myrtle Beach/Georgetown Times. He is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

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