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'Tiger King's' Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle Granted Bond Following Federal Money Laundering Charges

The wildlife zookeeper and trainer is expected to return to his South Carolina reserve after being released on bond. He stands accused of laundering more than half a million dollars of illegal funds. 

By Jax Miller
A police handout of Bhagavan “Doc” Antle

“Tiger King” subject Bhagavan "Doc" Antle is set to be released from federal custody on bond, weeks after agents arrested him on federal money laundering charges.

Antle’s bond was set at $250,000 on Monday by Magistrate Judge Thomas E. Rogers III in a Florence, South Carolina courtroom, according to NBC Myrtle Beach affiliate WMBF. Following his release, Antle, 61, would be required to follow a list of restrictions, including location monitoring at his Myrtle Beach Safari Park, where he will be confined. He will also be under the supervision of his son, who must ensure that Antle complies with his conditions and continues to appear in court.

The bond has yet to be formally executed but is expected to take place on Tuesday. Records from the Horry County Sheriff’s Office show Antle was still incarcerated as of Tuesday afternoon.

Antle has been at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center since his June 3 arrest by federal authorities. He was slapped with federal money laundering charges days later. Federal proseuctors allege that he and business associate Jon Sawyer laundered more than $500,000 in connection with smuggling undocumented Mexican immigrants into the United States.

The arrest came after a months-long investigation in which federal prosecutors accused Antle and Sawyer of taking the proceeds from the immigration operation and writing bogus checks, which they allegedly claimed would be used for construction at Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari. Federal authorities said, “in reality, the checks were simply a means to allow the recipients to appear to have legitimate income.”

Antle and Sawyer allegedly got 15 percent of the laundered funds.

At Monday’s hearing, prosecutors argued that Antle should remain in jail, citing his “significant financial resources,” according to the Associated Press. They also noted Antle’s alleged “contacts that know how to make false identification documents,” in claiming that he was a flight risk.

Conversely, Antle’s defense argued their client had not been in real trouble with the law before and referenced his irregular heartbeat as a factor in potentially exacerbating “symptoms of COVID-19” should Antle contract the virus while in lock-up, according to the Associated Press.

Antle, whose career as an exotic wildlife zoo operator and trainer was featured in the hit Netflix series “Tiger King,” has long-drawn ire from animal rights groups such as PETA. After Antle’s bond was set, PETA’s Foundation Associate Director for Captive Animal Law Enforcement released a statement.

“‘Doc’ Antle’s days of harassing big cats for photo ops are numbered, as the FBI agent who testified at Antle’s detention hearing made it clear that additional federal charges are expected within a month,” said Michelle Sinnott. “PETA blew the whistle on Antle’s apparent ‘charity’ scam, and now that he faces state wildlife trafficking and federal money laundering charges, his legal woes are mounting — making it only a matter of time before this sleazy showman is finally shut down.”

On top of the federal money laundering charges, for which PETA took credit after allegedly blowing the whistle, Antle also faces two felony counts of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to wildlife trafficking in the state of Virginia. He also faces 13 misdemeanor counts of conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and animal cruelty charges concerning the treatment of lion cubs.

According to WMBF, an extradition warrant is out for Antle’s arrest following new criminal charges in Virginia. ABC Myrtle Beach affiliate WPDE reported on June 16 that a Frederick County Grand Jury charged Antle with two counts of illegally selling endangered species.

Extradition may follow Antle’s expected release from federal custody.