MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Florence for wildlife trafficking and money laundering charges, according to an announcement Thursday morning by the South Carolina District Attorney’s Office.
The move comes after Antle was arrested earlier this month for money laundering, with the FBI announcing that it intended to add additional charges.
Antle, the owner of Myrtle Beach Safari in Myrtle Beach, was charged alongside four other people. Those include 52-year-old Andrew Jon Sawyer, also known as Omar Sawyer, 51-year-old Meredith Bybee, also known as Moksha Bybee, 61-year-old Charles Sammut and 42-year-old Jason Clay.
Sawyer and Bybee are from Myrtle Beach. Summut is from Salinas, California, and Clay is from Franklin, Texas. Bybee is listed as the general manager of Myrtle Beach Safari on the zoo’s online staff list.
Sammut owns Vision Quest Ranch, which housed exotic animal species and sold tours, according to the announcement. Clay owns Franklin Drive Thru Safari, which also has exotic animals and tours.
Antle, Bybee, Sammut and Clay are accused of illegally trafficking wildlife — including lemurs, cheetahs and a chimpanzee — and making false records, according to the announcement.
Antle has been charged with laundering more than $500,000 as part of a scheme to smuggle immigrants across the border. He also allegedly used bulk cash receipts to buy the animals because he was unable to use checks, and used the cash by inflating tourist numbers at his Myrtle Beach business, according to the announcement.
If convicted, Antle and Sawyer face up to two decades in federal prison on the money laundering charges, and up to five years for the wildlife trafficking charges. Bybee, Sammut and Clay are facing wildlife trafficking charges.
Antle and Sawyer have previously been granted bond and have been released from the J. Reuben Long Detention Center. Antle is also facing animal trafficking charges in Virginia.
Tax documents for Antle’s charges show a surge in donations in 2019 — the year the money laundering scheme allegedly began. His reported wife has also registered two new businesses with the South Carolina Secretary of State since his arrest, a move PETA previously told News13 that they expect was done in anticipation that his assets will be seized.
His nonprofit, the Rare Species Fund, is under investigation from the state following a complaint from PETA, and has not filed its tax documents to the state for last year.
Ryan Beasley, Antle’s lawyer, told News13 that the indictment “was nothing we weren’t expecting.”
PETA celebrated the decision.
“Kudos to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for doing what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has refused to do for years: crack down on ‘Doc’ Antle’s endangered-animal exploitation outfit,” PETA wrote in a statement. “PETA will keep pushing the USDA to do its job, revoke Antle’s license, and stop letting him profit from animals’ misery.”
Antle posted a picture of him with his elephant, Bubbles, on Instagram Thursday morning, writing that “To be be [sic] out in the Carolina sunshine with my beloved daughter Bubbles is the greatest feeling, truly a gift,” and urging his followers to stay at one of their “luxury accommodations.”