South Carolina Endangered Turtle Traffickers Sentenced to Probation

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wildlife conservation community scored a huge win on Wednesday when two South Carolina turtle traders were formally convicted in federal court.

According to The Herald, Steven Baker, 35, of Holly Hill, and Ray Robertson, 68, of Cottageville, were sentenced on federal wildlife trafficking charges after undercover agents busted the men last year.

The criminals were caught green-handed during undercover operations initiated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. Agents say they bought near-endangered spotted turtles from each man on two separate occasions.

Baker, who owns a business entitled Southeastern Reptile Locators, sold 17 spotted turtles to an undercover agent at the Daytona Reptile Breeders Exposition in 2012. He then sent 18 other turtles via UPS to the same agent, with both exchanges totaling about $3,000.

Robertson, owner of Apostle Reptiles, told an undercover agent at the S.C. Repticon Reptile Exposition that he had 119 spotted turtles for sale in 2012. A year later, he shipped 26 spotted turtles to the agent for almost $5,000.

South Carolina is known for its incredible wildlife preserves featuring rare species like the spotted turtle. The state is also home to eight of the 14 tree frog species found in the United States.

The Southeastern U.S. is recognized as a “Turtle Priority Area” because of its rich turtle biodiversity. According to the South Carolina Wildlife Foundation, endangered turtles in the state are constantly in danger of becoming extinct from a variety of external threats.

Loggerhead turtles, another endangered species in the area, are threatened by incidental capture in commercial fishing equipment, particularly trawl nets used for catching shrimp.

The spotted turtle, while not officially considered endangered, is recognized as a “protected” species.

South Carolina law requires a permit for anyone to “take, possess, transport, import, export, process, sell, offer for sale, ship or receive for shipment, any spotted turtle.”

In the case of Baker and Robertson, they were merely looking for a quick profit on turtles they illegally obtained. Court documents note that neither man had a permit at the time they sold the turtles.

U.S. Attorney Bill Nettles said that Baker was sentenced to three years probation for a combination of wildlife and weapons charges after illegal firearms were found during a raid of his home. Robertson was sentenced to time served.