MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — The U.S. government filed a motion Wednesday morning to modify the bond of Bhagavan “Doc” Antle after he allegedly tried to sell Myrtle Beach Safari after he was arrested for money laundering, according to federal documents.
News13 first reported in June that one of Antle’s reported wives had registered two businesses since Antle’s arrest earlier that month — both with addresses listed as Myrtle Beach Safari, which he owns. China York filed articles of organization with the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office for Vali Co LLC and Sugriva Co LLC on June 8 and June 10, respectively.
Now, federal court documents accuse Antle of trying to sell Myrtle Beach Safari to Sugrivia Co LLC.
The United States Department of Agriculture was made aware of the sale because York has applied for an Animal Welfare Act license, according to documents.
“This sale will encumber property that could be subject to seizure and would by default transfer ownership and control of many of the animals at issue in this case,” the filing reads. “Should the sale occur, animals and other property that are evidence and subject to forfeiture would be owned and controlled by a non-party to this criminals case.”
The government is asking the court to modify his bond to ban Antle from transferring the title of Myrtle Beach Safari or any animal listed under the Endangered Species Act, according to the documents.
A letter from York’s attorney says Antle will “Have no ownership or leadership role in operating Sugriva Co LLC. He will not serve on a board or direct the activities of the organization.”
“I mean, it is really hard to say what exactly those LLCs were created for, but given the timing, I would certainly be suspicious that they were created for the purpose of moving and sheltering some of Doc Antle and Myrtle Beach Safari’s assets in anticipation of the federal government freezing and potentially seizing those assets,” a spokesperson for PETA told News13 in June.
“In the face of potential prison time, Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle is grasping at straws to try to keep his seedy roadside zoo going if he ends up behind bars,” Debbie Metzler, the PETA Foundation’s director of captive animal welfare, said in a statement to News13. “The U.S. Department of Justice is making the right call by seeking to stop this shady deal, and as the USDA investigates PETA’s complaint about Antle’s dangerous and exploitative big-cat encounters, PETA is urging the agency not to issue any more licenses to anyone seeking to exhibit animals from Myrtle Beach Safari or to purchase the company.”
Antle’s charity, the Rare Species Fund, was moved to an “expired” status from the state earlier this year for not filing its tax returns. Under the status, the nonprofit, also known as Preservation Station, was banned from accepting donations. The charity’s nonprofit currently states it is not accepting donations.
In August, that status was moved to “suspended,” according to information from the South Carolina Secretary of State’s charity search website.
Antle is listed as the president, CEO and chief financial officer for the Rare Species Fund, according to documents from the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office.
The Rare Species Fund is also listed as a nonprofit in Florida, where its status is set to expire on July 1, 2023. Its “statement of purpose” is listed as furthering the protection of and educating the public on tigers, elephants, rhinos, lions and other animals. Documents show that it reports that all of its funds are used on program services expenses and that no money is spent on administrative salaries or fundraising efforts.
Tax documents obtained by News13 show that the Rare Species Fund collected $288,575 in donations in 2016, $216,109 in donations in 2017 and $177,877 in donations in 2018. In 2019, the year the scheme allegedly began, those donations quadrupled to $801,735. Donations decreased to $43,170 the following year.
The documents list that $332,623 was spent on habitat repair and construction in 2019, and $129,041 on it in 2020.
Money laundering charges
His charges allege that Antle hid the money laundering by stating that he spent it on construction at Myrtle Beach Safari.
A criminal complaint reveals Antle and Andrew Jon Sawyer, 52, of Myrtle Beach, laundered $505,000 in cash “they believed to be the proceeds of an operation to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Mexican border into the United States,” according to a news release. Antle and Sawyer “would launder the cash by providing checks from a business controlled by Antle and a business controlled by Sawyer.”
The checks falsely stated they were remitted for construction work at the safari. Antle and Sawyer received a 15% fee of the laundered amount, according to the release.
Antle allegedly discussed his plan to conceal the money by inflating tourist numbers at Myrtle Beach Safari, according to a news release.
A confidential informant went to the safari in 2019 to meet with Antle, according to the documents.
In February, FBI Special Agents initiated a “reverse money laundering” operation, in which agents created a business name and bank account in the name of said business. The business was by name only and did not have employees or offer goods or services, according to the criminal complaint.
Antle and Sawyer each face up to 20 years in federal prison if found guilty. A third person, Bill Dallis, has also been arrested in connection with the case.