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'Tiger King' star Doc Antle should stay in jail since he's a flight risk threat, feds say

Doc Antle mugshot (copy) (copy)

Mugshot of Myrtle Beach Safari operator Doc Antle taken after his arrest June 3. 

FLORENCE — "Tiger King" star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle will remain behind bars on money laundering charges while a federal judge determines if he should receive bond after a June 16 detention hearing in Florence.

The hearing came two days after Antle’s lawyers asked to release the Myrtle Beach Safari owner on bond because of his health issues, no prior convictions and the importance of him running the 50-acre tourist attraction located off of S.C. 707 in Socastee.

But federal officials detailed reasons for keeping Antle at J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway during the hearing including: Antle being a possible flight risk; his ability to obstruct justice by using an incinerator at his safari; and more pending federal charges coming within the next 30 days tied to wildlife trafficking.

Antle also faces a pending extradition order out of Virginia for his animal cruelty charges tied to trafficking lion cubs if he were released out on bond, U.S. Assistant Attorney Amy Bower also told U.S. Magistrate Judge Thomas Rogers during the hearing.

Antle, who was handcuffed in an orange jumpsuit and wearing his signature long hair in a pony-tail during the nearly two-hour hearing, did not address the court but constantly spoke to his lawyers at the defense table.

Rogers told Bower to respond to Antle’s previous motion for bond in writing within 24 hours before he told the court that he would take any possible bond for Antle into consideration. Rogers did not give a timetable when he would make a ruling.

The government called one witness during the detention hearing, FBI Agent Timothy Quigley, who was part of the investigation that ultimately led to Antle’s arrest on charges of money laundering more than $500,000 out of the Myrtle Beach Safari.

Bower asked Quigley questions on whether the FBI thought Antle was a flight risk and if he had the ability to obstruct justice.

Quigley testified that Antle told a confidential informant that he knows someone who can make IDs from “dead people’s social security numbers.” In the hours after Antle was arrested by the FBI, Quigley said a bank account in Antle’s name was drained of more than $739,000.

“That’s a lot of money to have,” Quigley said.

Antle’s lawyer Andy Moorman countered in his closing that the animal handler was in jail at the time federal officials said the bank account was drained.

Quigley also testified that Antle has many connections across the world, including in South Africa where he is “revered.”

“All he would have to do is make a phone call,” Quigley said.

Moorman countered that Antle has lived at his Socastee home for 28 years, noting his ties to the area, although federal officials alleged during the hearing that Antle has multiple properties, including a home in Miami.

Asked about Antle’s ability to obstruct justice, Quigley testified that he has an incinerator at the Myrtle Beach Safari, which Moorman countered is used to cremate deceased animals. 

“I can’t even fathom the amount of evidence that could be placed in the incinerator,” Quigley said.

Antle, 62, and Safari employee Andrew Sawyer, 52, were arrested by the FBI on June 3 on charges of money laundering out of the popular 50-acre tourist attraction located off of S.C. 707 in Socastee.

A third man, William Dallis, a building contractor from Murrells Inlet, also was arrested in connection with the case and charged with money laundering. Dallis was released on a $75,000 bond on June 6, an additional point that Antle’s lawyers pointed out in a 12-page motion submitted to the court for bond consideration.

Like Antle, Sawyer remains at J. Reuben Long Detention Center. All three men are facing up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.

The money laundering case has received national attention because Antle 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.

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

The Myrtle Beach Safari owner has received more than 35 U.S. Department of Agriculture violations over the years for mistreating animals, and he is facing an Oct. 31 trial on animal cruelty charges in Virginia tied to trafficking lion cubs, but has never been convicted.

Fellow "Tiger King" star Carole Baskin tweeted after the hearing, "Seeing him caged is, in my opinion, karma in action."

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Follow Richard Caines on Twitter at @rickcaines