Federal grand jury adds wildlife trafficking to charges against ‘Doc’ Antle
FLORENCE, S.C. (WMBF) - A federal grand jury in Florence returned a 10-count indictment Thursday alleging charges related to wildlife trafficking and money laundering against five individuals, including Bhagavan “Doc” Antle.
- Bhagavan Mahamayavi Antle, a/k/a Kevin Antle, a/k/a Doc Antle, 62, of Myrtle Beach;
- Andrew Jon Sawyer a/k/a Omar Sawyer, 52, of Myrtle Beach;
- Meredith Bybee, a/k/a Moksha Bybee, 51, of Myrtle Beach;
- Charles Sammut, 61, of Salinas, California; and
- Jason Clay, 42, of Franklin, Texas
According to the indictment and other court records, Sammut is the owner and operator of Vision Quest Ranch, a for-profit corporation that housed captive exotic species and sold tours and safari experiences to guests.
Clay is the owner and operator of the Franklin Drive Thru Safari, a for-profit corporation that housed captive exotic species and sold tours and safari experiences to guests.
The indictment alleges that Antle, at various times along with Bybee, Sammut, and Clay, illegally trafficked wildlife in violation of federal law, including the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, and made false records regarding that wildlife.
The animals involved included lemurs, cheetahs, and a chimpanzee.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said the indictment makes it clear that a conviction would allow the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to find new homes for the animals involved.
”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,” said Brittany Peet, the PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement. “PETA will keep pushing the USDA to do its job, revoke Antle’s license, and stop letting him profit from animals’ misery.”
The indictment and a previously-filed federal complaint in the case also allege that over the last several months, Antle and Sawyer laundered more than $500,000 in cash they believed to be the proceeds of an operation to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Mexican border into the United States.
The filings allege that Antle had used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use checks and that Antle planned to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at the Myrtle Beach Safari.
Antle and Sawyer each face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for the charges related to money laundering, and up to five years in federal prison for the charges related to wildlife trafficking. Bybee, Sammut, and Clay each face up to five years in federal prison for the charges related to wildlife trafficking.
Antle and Sawyer were previously granted a bond by a federal magistrate judge as a result of the charges in the federal complaint, and Bybee, Sammut, and Clay are pending arraignment.
Antle was released on a $250,000 bond Tuesday for the alleged money laundering charges.
The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The prosecutors on the case are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Derek A. Shoemake and Amy Bower, with the District of South Carolina, and DOJ Senior Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan with DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section
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