The owner of Myrtle Beach Safari, who appeared in the documentary “Tiger King,” is accused of trafficking wildlife and laundering money allegedly tied to smuggling immigrants over the Mexican border.
A federal grand jury in Florence, South Carolina, returned a 10-count indictment alleging the charges against:
Antle owns The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S.) also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari, a 50-acre wildlife tropical preserve. Sawyer and Bybee are his employees and business associates, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Sammut is the owner and operator of Vision Quest Ranch and Clay is the owner and operator of the Franklin Drive Thru Safari. Both are for-profit corporations that housed captive exotic species and sold tours and safari experiences to guests.
“The indictment alleges that Antle, at various times along with Bybee, Sammut and Clay, illegally trafficked wildlife in violation of federal law, including the Lacey Act and the Endangered Species Act, and made false records regarding that wildlife. The animals involved included lemurs, cheetahs and a chimpanzee,” the DOJ release stated.
“The indictment and a previously-filed federal complaint in the case also allege that over the last several months, Antle and Sawyer laundered more than $500,000 in cash they believed to be the proceeds of an operation to smuggle illegal immigrants across the Mexican border into the United States. The filings allege that Antle had used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for which he could not use checks, and that Antle planned to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at the Myrtle Beach Safari.”
Antle and Sawyer each face a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for the charges related to money laundering, and up to five years in federal prison for the charges related to wildlife trafficking. Bybee, Sammut and Clay each face up to five years in federal prison for the charges related to the wildlife trafficking.
Antle and Sawyer were previously granted a bond by a federal magistrate judge as a result of the charges in the federal complaint, and Bybee, Sammut and Clay are pending arraignment, according to the DOJ release.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The prosecutors on the case are Assistant U.S. Attorneys Derek A. Shoemake and Amy Bower for the District of South Carolina and Senior Trial Attorney Patrick M. Duggan of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, Environmental Crimes Section.