`Tiger Man' changes his stripes

Indigent who kept tiger now has an entourage


NEW YORK - Antoine Yates, who has come to be known as "Tiger Man" for housing his 400-pound Bengal tiger in a Harlem apartment, showed up at Manhattan Criminal Court yesterday in high style.

In his previous court appearance, he looked bedraggled in white sweat pants and a sling, but this time Yates' outfit consisted of a striking monochromatic white shirt-and-tie combination under a dark suit. He topped the look with a hat, a black bowler, and a splash of color - a red feather, to match his red earring.

Then there was the entourage: a state assemblyman, a defense lawyer from a high-profile Manhattan firm and a special assistant for the assemblyman. The private security team consisted of beefy bodyguards clearing a path from car to courtroom, one in a full-length fur coat.

People going about their business inside the court building wondered about the identity of the stylish man and clamored for a better look. It seemed clear that Yates, jobless and homeless, had, with the help of his handlers, made a savvy transition from oddball defendant to celebrity-in-waiting.

"Antoine is, despite his characterization, not a kook," said the assemblyman, Keith L.T. Wright, who represents the 70th District in Harlem. "I'm here to show support as his assemblyperson, to help him find a job, possibly with animals."

Yates, 37, was arrested in October on charges of reckless endangerment and the possession of a wild animal. He could be sentenced to seven years in prison if convicted on the charges, which stemmed from the discovery of Ming, his tiger, in his apartment in a public housing complex.

The case came to light after Yates called police claiming to have been bitten by a pit bull. They managed to remove Ming after a sharpshooter shot him with tranquilizer darts.

At the time, Yates said that he was keeping the tiger "to show the whole world that we could all get along."

A spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said the case was still under investigation. Colon said he "can't speculate about what their case is."

For all the fanfare of Yates' appearance, it was a routine court appointment. The case was adjourned without action until April 7.

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