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Bhagavan 'Doc' Antle Slapped With New Charges For Allegedly Trafficking Endangered Animals

"Tiger King" star Bhagavan "Doc" Antle was one of five people named in a 10-count federal indictment charging him with illegally trafficking animals, including lemurs, cheetahs, and a chimpanzee. 

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

"Tiger King" star Bhagavan "Doc" Antle has been slapped with more federal charges as his legal woes continue to mount.

Antle, 62, was one of five people named in a 10-count indictment charging him with federal wildlife trafficking on top of  previously filed money laundering charges against him, the Department of Justice announced Thursday. Also named in the indictment is Jon Sawyer, 52, whom federal prosecutors allege worked with Antle to wash more than $500,000 dollars. The illegal monies were allegedly procured from a criminal operation that saw immigrants smuggled into the United States from Mexico.

Feds say Antle, who houses exotic animals at his Myrtle Beach Safari in South Carolina, worked with other individuals in the wildlife industry to illegally transport various animals, including lemurs, cheetahs, and a chimpanzee.

Others named in the indictment include Meredith Bybee, 53, Charles Sammut, 61, and Jason Clay, 42.

Bybee (along with Jon Sawyer) works at Antle’s 50-acre wildlife preserve, according to the Department of Justice. Sammut owns and operates the Vision Quest Ranch out of Salinas, California, while Clay runs the Franklin Drive-Thru Safari out of Franklin, Texas. Both Sammut and Clay house captive exotic animals and sell tours and safari experiences to visitors.

In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Sammut told reporters that the indictments were “littered with misinformation.”

The alleged trafficking, officials say, violates multiple federal laws, including the Lacey Act, which “bans trafficking in fish, wildlife, or plants that are illegally taken, possessed, transported, or sold.” The alleged crimes are also in violation of the Endangered Species Act, which “prohibits the import, export, or taking of fish and wildlife and plants that are listed as threatened or endangered species.”

Antle, whose eccentric lifestyle as a zookeeper and exotic animal trainer was featured in the hit Netflix series “Tiger King,” continues to draw harsh criticism from animal rights groups such as PETA, who previously took credit for allegedly blowing the whistle on Antle’s alleged crimes.

Brittany Peet, PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement, made a statement on Thursday, following the new trafficking charges, bashing the U.S. Department of Agriculture for allegedly not doing more.

“Kudos to the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service for doing what the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has refused to do for years: crack down on ‘Doc’ Antle’s endangered-animal exploitation outfit,” Peet stated. “PETA will keep pushing the USDA to do its job, revoke Antle’s license, and stop letting him profit from animals’ misery.”

Antle and Sawyer already face up to 20 years in federal prison on the money laundering charges alone, according to the Department of Justice. If convicted, Bybee, Sammut, and Clay face up to five years for the trafficking charges.

Atop the federal charges, Antle faces 13 misdemeanor counts in Virginia for conspiracy to violate the Endangered Species Act and animal cruelty charges related to the treatment of lion cubs. He was also charged in Frederick County with two counts of illegally selling endangered animals earlier this month.

Antle and Sawyer were previously granted bond, according to the Department of Justice. Jail records examined by Oxygen.com show Antle was released from the Horry County Detention Center on Tuesday, while Sawyer was released on June 17.

Bybee, Sammut, and Clay are awaiting arraignment.

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