A federal grand jury in Florence returned a 10-count indictment alleging charges related to wildlife trafficking and money-laundering against five individuals:
- 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 a press release, Antle — of Tiger King fame — is the owner and operator of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S), also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari. The Myrtle Beach Safari is a 50-acre wildlife tropical preserve in Myrtle Beach. Sawyer and Bybee are Antle’s employees and business associates.
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.
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 the 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.
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
U.S. Attorney Corey F. Ellis stated that all charges in the indictment are merely accusations and that the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.