MYRTLE BEACH — In a phone call with an associate in April, Doc Antle, the controversial ‘Tiger King’ star of Myrtle Beach, appeared to be talking about disguising the origin of the money allegedly coming from smuggling illegal immigrants from South America.
Antle suggested the associate use his Myrtle Beach Safari as cover so the money wouldn’t be easily tracked down by the government.
“You put in the ‘Ape House’ check,” the associate said according to records released by federal authorities. “What do you want me to put on my books to match?”
“Yeah, you can just put ‘monkey house’,” Antle replied, “You can just put ‘…bathroom’ like we do for the green bathroom, rainforest.”
The conversation was part of an FBI sting that ultimately led to the June 3 arrest of Antle, 62, and his Myrtle Beach Safari employee, Andrew Sawyer, 52, on charges of money laundering from the popular 50-acre tourist attraction located off SC. 707 in Socastea.
A third man, William Dallis, a building contractor from Murrells Inlet, was also arrested in connection with the case and charged with money laundering.
Lawyers for Antle, Dallis and Sawyer declined to comment. Their clients face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted.
The money laundering case received national attention because Antle was featured in the hit Netflix series ‘Tiger King,’ about animal handler and zoo operator Joe Exotic, who was sent to prison in a plot to kill a rival, Carole Baskin.
Antle has also been a controversial figure among animal rights activists who have accused him of abusing lions and other wildlife, including allowing people to hold the animals at Myrtle Beach Safari.
Antle has received more than 35 violations from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for abusing animals, and he faces trial Oct. 31 for animal cruelty in Virginia related to the trafficking of lion cubs.
A recently unsealed 26-page federal criminal complaint details how federal authorities first learned of the alleged money laundering operation and the steps taken to gather evidence with secret tapes.
The FBI first received a tip in October 2019 from an anonymous informant that a member of the Myrtle Beach business community, later identified as Dallis, requested the informant’s assistance with a transaction by check for $200,000 implicating Antle, according to court documents.
The deal never transpired, but feds decided to investigate Antle.
Two years later, the FBI recorded a meeting between Antle and the informant at his Myrtle Beach-area reservation in November 2021, where they allegedly discussed Antle’s help in money laundering. The FBI documents don’t say why they needed the laundered money or who else was involved.
“He’s going to business,” Antle told the insider. “So it sure looks like I’m buying a lot more (supplies from your company) and so that’s also tax deductible at the same time.”
Antle allegedly told the informant to avoid communicating via text because of past encounters with authorities.
“Now when I got in trouble before it was because they walked up and said we thought you were a bad guy,” Antle said. “Let me see your phone. And they took my phone.”
In a meeting a month later, Antle allegedly told the informant that he would be a third party in a money laundering transaction with a 20% “washing fee”. Antle also reportedly expressed concern about counterfeit money.
“Because you have nothing to lose,” Antle said. “The only thing to lose if the money is counterfeit, they will come and kill me.”
In February, the FBI launched a “reverse” money laundering operation due to Antle’s willingness to participate, according to court records. Agents set up a fake business as well as a bank account which was used to provide money to Antle to launder money to smuggle illegal immigrants from South America.
The informant reportedly met with Antle and Sawyer regularly and hand-delivered money to them three times. It’s unclear how Sawyer got into the alleged scheme, but the duo in return signed a check in favor of the FBI firm less a 15% fee.
During a meeting in March, the informant and Antle discussed a woman who Antle said was being flown to the United States to work at the Myrtle Beach Safari, including how she would travel to the country across tunnels to cross the border.
Antle, along with Sawyer and Dallis, were arrested on June 3.
Antle and Sawyer remain in custody at the J. Reuben Long Detention Center in Conway pending a bail hearing on June 16 in Florence. Dallis was released on $75,000 bond on June 6.