By JEFFREY COLLINS
COLUMBIA, SC — “Tiger King” star Bhagavan “Doc” Antle has been charged with buying or selling endangered lemurs, cheetahs and an endangered chimpanzee without proper paperwork, Carolina federal prosecutors said Thursday. from South.
Charles Sammut, the operator of Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, traded two red ruffed lemurs with Antle in June 2018, federal prosecutors said.
The latest charges against Antle come on top of money laundering charges, where authorities say he tried to hide more than half a million dollars in an operation to smuggle smuggling people across the Mexican border into the United States.
Antle is featured prominently in “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness,” a 2020 Netflix documentary miniseries focusing on tiger breeders and private zoo operators in the United States. The series focused heavily on Oklahoma zoo operator Joe Exotic, who was also targeted for animal abuse and was convicted of a conspiracy to kill rival Carole Baskin.
The US Endangered Species Act requires permission to buy or move any endangered species in captivity and prosecutors said Antle, two of his employees and safari owners in Texas and California all violated the law.
Sammut said the allegations in the indictments were “littered with misinformation,” he told The Associated Press on Thursday by telephone.
Sammut said he would not elaborate on what was wrong as he had an ongoing criminal case, but added he believed the issues “will soon be resolved”.
Antle was also accused of swapping a chimpanzee with Franklin Drive Through Safari in Franklin, Texas. Owner Jason Clay did not return a phone message and no attorney was listed in court records.
Sammut, 61, and Clay, 42, are each charged with wildlife trafficking and breaching the Endangered Species Act. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison.
Court documents say Antle, 62, and Myrtle Beach Safari employee Meredith Bybee also bought or sold two young cheetahs, though details of who else was involved in the alleged transaction are not in the deeds. federal indictment.
Antle’s attorneys did not respond to an email Thursday and court records did not list an attorney for Bybee, 51.
Antle and another employee, Andrew Jon Sawyer, 52, were charged earlier in June with money laundering.
Prosecutors said the men wrote checks worth $505,000 that were supposed to be for construction work at Myrtle Beach Safari, but were actually payments to help smuggle people from the Mexico in the United States.
Antle tried to hide the scheme by inflating the number of tourists to his 50-acre (20-hectare) tropical wildlife preserve, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors also said he had previously used cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use checks.
Animal rights activists have long accused Antle of abusing lions and other wildlife. He was indicted in Virginia in 2020 for animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking.
In Virginia, Antle faces two counts of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to traffic wildlife, as well as 13 counts of conspiracy to violate the Cash Act. endangered and animal cruelty charges related to lion cub trafficking. Those charges are expected to go to trial next 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 over 35 USDA violations for abusing animals.