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5 indicted on wildlife trafficking, money laundering charges

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A federal grand jury in Florence has returned a 10-count indictment alleging charges related to wildlife trafficking and money laundering against five people, according to a press release from the office of U.S. District Attorney Corey F. Ellis.

One is Bhagavan Mahamayavi “Doc” Antle, 62, of Myrtle Beach, a private zoo owner and operator who became nationally known in 2020 after appearances on the Netflix documentary series Tiger King. Antle owns and operates The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS), also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari, a 50-acre wildlife tropical preserve in Myrtle Beach.

Others indicted are Andrew Jon Sawyer aka Omar Sawyer, 52, of Myrtle Beach; Meredith Bybee, aka Moksha Bybee, 51, of Myrtle Beach; Charles Sammut, 61, of Salinas, Calif.; and Jason Clay, 42, of Franklin, Texas, according to the release.

Sawyer and Bybee are Antle’s employees and business associates. Sammut owns and operates Vision Quest Ranch, a for-profit corporation that housed captive species and sold tours and safari experiences to guests. Clay owns and operates of Franklin Drive Thru Safari, a for-profit corporation that also housed captive exotic species and sold tours and safaris.

The indictment alleges that at various times Antle, 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 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 proceeds of an operation to smuggle undocumented immigrants across the Mexican border into the U.S. The filing allege Antle used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use checks, and that he planned to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at the Myrtle Beach Safari.

Antle and Sawyer face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for the money-laundering charges, and up to five years in federal prison for the wildlife-trafficking charges. Bybee, Sammut and Clay each face up to five years in federal prison for 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. Bybee, Sammut and Clay are awaiting arraignment.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigated the case. Prosecutors on the case are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Derek A. Shoemake and Amy Bower, with the District of South Carolina, and Department of Justice Senior Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan with DOJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division’s Environmental Crimes Section.

Reach Christina Lee Knauss at 803-753-4327.

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