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Bhagavan “Doc” Antle and one of his business associates have been charged with money laundering in connection with smuggling illegal immigrants into the country.
Antle, 62, was arrested by the FBI on Friday and now faces up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the Department of Justice. Federal prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in South Carolina claim Antle, along with his employee and business partner Andrew Jon Sawyer, 52, laundered $505,000 in cash within the last four months.
The funds in question, prosecutors believe, were the proceeds of a smuggling operation that saw Mexican immigrants illegally enter the United States.
A criminal complaint details potentially damning conversations between Antle and confidential informants discussing the best way to launder monies, which, according to video and audio conversations recorded by the FBI, was something Antle had done in the past.
At one point, Antle warned the informant not to use text.
“[Phone calls are] never as dangerous, but text is f*****g easy for them to take from you,” said Antle. “They can’t take your phone calls because they are not recorded. And for them to get a warrant to listen to your phone is almost impossible. It’s just not done in America very much.”
In November 2021, the informant told Antle that he had about $350,000 in cash and expected another $300,000.
Several weeks later, the informant said he had $250,000. Altogether, the FBI recorded three instances when the informant “hand-delivered cash” to Antle and Sawyer.
“It’s not drug money,” the informant told Antle. “I bring people in. Illegal people, to help work.”
“You said something to me about it,” Antle replied. “Guys that are coming into the country that you have to, you got to keep it all cash.”
The informant explained he was in the construction business.
Prosecutors say Antle and Sawyer provided checks through the men’s businesses, according to the release by the Department of Justice. The checks “falsely claimed” to be for construction work at Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari, “when in reality, the checks were simply a means to allow the recipients to appear to have legitimate income,” per the release.
Antle and Sawyer allegedly got a 15% cut of any washed funds for their services.
Antle, whose controversial lifestyle was featured in the 2020 Netflix hit docu-series “Tiger King,” owns and operates The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) in Myrtle Beach. Antle also founded Myrtle Beach Safari, a 50-acre tropical preserve for wildlife with the organization.
“The complaint alleged that Antle discussed his plan to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at the Myrtle Beach Safari,” according to the Department of Justice. “And that in the past, he had used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use checks.”
Calls to the Myrtle Beach Safari were not immediately returned to Oxygen.com.
Jail records show Antle and Sawyer are being held at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in South Carolina. It remains unclear if either party retained legal representation or if they’d entered a plea to the charges.
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