(CN) – Trafficking in endangered spotted turtles landed a South Carolina man three years of probation on Wednesday.
Steven Baker, 35, of Holly Hill, S.C., had been charged in Charleston last year in connection with the scheme to transport and sell the turtles.
In addition to the turtle-trafficking penalty, Baker received a second sentence of three years probation on a charge of possession of weapons and ammunition by a convicted felon.
The southeastern United States is recognized as a “Turtle Priority Area” for conservation due to its rich turtle biodiversity. However, the turtle population of the region is susceptible to decline due to commercial over-exploitation of turtles for consumption, high nest mortality, and delayed maturity.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the spotted turtle, in particular, has suffered from these effects so much so that it was recently listed for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
South Carolina state law makes it unlawful for any person to take, possess, transport, import, export, process, sell, offer for sale, ship or receive for shipment any Spotted Turtle without a state permit.
Federal prosecutors said Baker operated his business, Southeastern Reptile Locators, out of his home, and did not hold a permit to possess spotted turtles.
They said that on Aug. 18, 2012, Baker drove to the Reptile Breeders Exposition in Daytona Beach, Fla., and sold an undercover agent 17 spotted turtles for $1,200.
On May 21, 2013, Baker sent the same undercover agent in Orlando, Fla., a UPS shipment that contained 18 spotted turtles and some other species of turtles. The undercover agent paid Baker $1,710 for the shipment via PayPal.
Investigators from the Fish and Wildlife Service executed a search warrant at Baker’s home in August 2013, collecting turtle-related evidence, guns and ammunition.
Baker is a convicted felon and is not allowed to possess those items. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents later determined the weapons and ammunition were manufactured outside of South Carolina, and therefore had traveled in interstate commerce.
Last month, Ray Robertson, 68, of Cottageville, S.C., was sentenced to time served on a wildlife trafficking charge.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Robertson had been doing business as Apostle Reptiles. He was issued a permit in 2008 to possess up to nine wild-caught spotted turtles for personal use as pets or for research and/or educational purposes.
After Roberson’s permit expired on May 15, 2013, the agents conducted an undercover investigation of Roberson for unlawfully possessing and selling turtles.
On July 14, 2012, an undercover agent contacted Roberson at his sales table in the Columbia, S.C., Repticon Reptile Exposition. Roberson told the undercover agent that he was in possession of 119 spotted turtles for sale.
On March 21, 2013, Roberson shipped 24 spotted turtles to the undercover agent in Orlando, Fla. The agent paid $2,400 for the spotted turtles.
On July 1, 2013, Roberson shipped 23 spotted turtles to the undercover agent in Orlando. The agent paid $2,520.00 for the 23 spotted turtles.
U.S. District Judge David Norton handed down both men’s sentences.
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