Federal charges involving money-laundering, human trafficking, & wildlife trafficking have yet to go to court
WINCHESTER, Virginia––Call Kevin “Bhagavan the bag man,” also known as “Doc” Antle, 63, a bad news/good news joke.
Kevin Antle on June 16, 2023 beat the rap on five misdemeanor cruelty charges, as did his two daughters, Tilakam ”Tilly” Magnolia Watterson, 36, and Tawny Antle, 28.
That was the bad news, for people who care about animals.
The good news is that a 12-member Frederick County Circuit Court jury convicted Kevin Antle of four felony counts of purchasing endangered animals without the proper permits, otherwise known as wildlife trafficking.
Could get 20 years on the state convictions
For these offenses Kevin Antle could be sentenced to serve up to 20 years in a Virginia state prison.
Kevin Antle is to appear before Judge Alexander Iden for sentencing on September 14, 2023.
Kevin Antle is unlikely to get the 20-year maximum on the state charges, but “Bhagavan the bag man” is still facing much more serious federal charges, which have yet to go to court, involving alleged money laundering and human trafficking, as well as wildlife trafficking.
All cruelty charges scuttled
Kevin Antle was originally charged with nine cruelty counts in Virginia.
“Earlier in the day Friday,” reported Brian Brehm of the Winchester Star on June 17, 2023, “Judge Iden ruled there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Antle” on the four of the animal cruelty charges, “so those counts were dropped before the jury began deliberations.”
The jury then acquitted Kevin Antle of the remaining five cruelty counts.
“Iden also dismissed all charges against Antle’s two daughters,” Brehm added, “after determining that no evidence had been presented to substantiate a total of three animal cruelty misdemeanors that had been filed against the pair.
“Paperwork violations” says lawyer
“All of the charges against the Antles and Watterson,” Brehm summarized, “stemmed from ‘Doc’ Antle purchasing lion cubs from Keith Wilson of the now-defunct Wilson’s Wild Animal Park from 2017 to 2019. The pair began their buyer/seller relationship in 2015, at which time such transactions were legal, but continued [as buyer and seller] after lions were designated as an endangered and protected species in 2016.”
Eric Breslin, a member of Kevin Antle’s defense team, told Caroline Williamson of Myrtle Beach Online that “What he was convicted of was essentially licensing and in our view, paperwork violations. We feel that those counts are based on a misreading of the law,” Breslin said, “and we will be continuing to push for his full exoneration on those charges.”
PETA hopes to put “Bhagavan the bag man” out of business
Responded PETA Foundation general counsel for captive animal law enforcement Brittany Peet, “PETA has urged families to stay away from Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle’s exploitative [wildlife] parks, blown the whistle on his apparent ‘charity’ scams, and alerted authorities to bears and tigers languishing in the heat at the cruel, now-defunct roadside zoo where he trafficked in endangered lions.
“PETA will push for a government crackdown on his chronic animal welfare violations and the termination of the federal licenses that keep his tawdry park [Myrtle Beach Safari] in business.”
Still ahead for Kevin Antle and alleged accomplice Andrew Jon Sawyer, 52, also known as Omar Sawyer, are federal charges filed on June 6, 2022, accusing them of “money laundering crimes involving more than $500,000.”
Antle was already charged with two pending federal felony counts of wildlife trafficking and conspiracy to commit wildlife trafficking.
Scheme to smuggle illegal immigrants
The most serious charges, in terms of potential penalties, allege that Antle used his Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (T.I.G.E.R.S), also known as the Myrtle Beach Safari, “to launder $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,” summarized the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina.
“Specifically, according to the complaint,” said a U.S. Department of Justice media release, “Antle and Sawyer would launder the cash by providing checks from a business controlled by Antle and a business controlled by Sawyer. Those checks falsely claimed they were remitted for construction work being performed at the Myrtle Beach Safari, when in reality the checks were simply a means to allow the recipients to appear to have legitimate income. In exchange, Antle and Sawyer received a 15% fee of any amount laundered.”
Lost nonprofit status
“The complaint further alleges,” according to the Department of Justice summary, “that Antle discussed his plan to conceal the cash he received by inflating tourist numbers at the Myrtle Beach Safari, and that in the past he had used bulk cash receipts to purchase animals for whom he could not use checks.”
The money laundering charges were filed one day after the South Carolina Secretary of State’s office on June 5, 2022 reportedly informed Antle that his nonprofit organization, the Rare Species Fund, doing business as the Preservation Station, had missed the May 15, 2022 deadline for filing an annual financial report.
The Rare Species Fund’s nonprofit status was therefore listed as “expired,” meaning that it could no longer issue tax receipts for donations received in either South Carolina or Florida.
Antle’s wife China York subsequently filed articles of incorporation to form another South Carolina company, Sugriva Co. LLC, named after a chimpanzee at Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari.
Antle then sought to transfer the assets of Myrtle Beach Safari to Sugriva Co. LLC.