Bond is set for “Tiger King” star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle on charges of laundering more than half a million dollars, money federal prosecutors say was the proceeds of an operation to smuggle people across the Mexican border into the United States.
A federal judge in Florence, South Carolina, on Monday issued a $250,000 secured bond for Antle, who was still in jail Monday night. Federal prosecutors said it would take a day to process his release, after which Antle will be confined to his 20-acre tropical wildlife sanctuary in Socastee, outside Myrtle Beach.
Prosecutors had argued in court files that Antle should remain in custody prior to his trial because he poses a flight risk, pointing to his “significant financial resources” and “contacts who know how to make false identification documents.”
Antle’s lawyers pleaded for his release, saying the 62-year-old has no previous convictions and suffers from an irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure, “which could exacerbate symptoms of COVID-19 if Antle contracts the disease while incarcerated.”
Charges against Antle and Andrew Jon Sawyer, one of Antle’s associates at Myrtle Beach Safari, were revealed in a federal court hearing earlier this month.
According to federal prosecutors, Antle and Sawyer laundered $505,000 over a four-month period by handing out checks from companies they controlled, and received compensation equal to 15% of the money that passed through their hands.
The checks, prosecutors say, were falsely intended as payment for construction work at Myrtle Beach Safari, but were in fact intended as proof that the recipients had legitimate income.
According to a federal complaint, Antle discussed his plan to hide the money he received by increasing the number of tourists in his wildlife sanctuary. Prosecutors also said he had previously used large cash register receipts to buy animals for which he could not use checks.
Authorities say Antle and Sawyer each face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison if convicted. Sawyer was released on a $100,000 bond earlier this month, according to court records.
Antle features prominently in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”, a 2020 Netflix documentary miniseries that targeted tiger breeders and private zoo operators in the US. assault and was convicted in a plot to kill a rival, Carole Baskin.
Animal rights advocates have accused Antle of mistreating lions and other wildlife. He faces multiple charges in Virginia, including animal cruelty, wildlife trafficking and 13 counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act.
Federal prosecutors said Antle was on bail for those charges when he committed his alleged crimes in South Carolina.
In May, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the IRS to investigate Antle’s Rare Species Fund, a nonprofit organization that raises money for wildlife conservation. PETA claims it uses some of the fund’s money to subsidize its safari site.
In a statement Monday, Michelle Sinnott, associate director of PETA’s Captive Animal Law Enforcement Division, said a federal agent who testified at Antle’s detention hearing “made it clear that additional federal charges are expected within the month.”
Antle has a history of recorded violations dating back to 1989, when he was fined by the United States Department of Agriculture for abandoning deer and peacocks at his Virginia zoo. Over the years, he has had more than 35 USDA violations for abusing animals.
Meg Kinnard can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP†