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General Legislative Discussions Any general discussion concerning legislative issues or events. Not necessarily specific to a particular region, or even a type of animal group.

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Old 03-18-2019, 09:00 AM   #22

He traded rare turtles on the black market. Now, SC man is going to prison
March 11, 2019

COLUMBIA, SC — A federal judge sentenced the S.C. leader of an international wildlife smuggling ring to more than a year in prison Monday for his role in trading rare turtles on the black market from his home in rural Orangeburg County.

The 16 months Steven Verren Baker will spend in a federal detention facility represents one of the first times anyone will have gone to prison in South Carolina for involvement in the illegal wildlife trade, prosecutors said after Monday’s court hearing.

U.S. District Judge Joe Anderson handed down a 27 month-sentence, but Anderson gave Baker credit for the 11 months the Holly Hill man has spent in jail awaiting resolution of the case. Anderson said that while Baker’s crime was non-violent, it was a serious offense.

Baker, a 38-year-old with bipolar disorder, has been awaiting sentencing since pleading guilty to a wildlife trafficking charge last June. He faced up to five years in prison but Baker got credit for helping federal authorities prosecute others who were part of the smuggling operation.

Baker was the kingpin of the international smuggling scheme in South Carolina, regularly trading rare turtles with Asian businessmen on the black market, prosecutors said. An Augusta, Ga.,-native, Baker is one of the most widely known wildlife traders in South Carolina, having had run-ins with authorities for parts of the past 14 years.

Winston Holliday, an assistant U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the case, said people thinking of dealing wildlife illegally in South Carolina should pay attention to Monday’s sentence.

“It sends a message that you’re facing real jail time,’’ Holliday said.

Wildlife trafficking is a concern in South Carolina because some turtle species that once were abundant are being trapped and shipped overseas, which threatens to disrupt the balance of nature, authorities say.

Baker, wearing shackles and a prison jumpsuit, has been in jail since last spring after his arrest. After he was charged in early 2018, Baker fled from authorities and was considered a fugitive at one point.

He had little to say at Monday’s sentencing hearing, but apologized for his actions, then shook Holliday’s hand before being whisked away by federal guards. Baker’s court-appointed attorney, federal public defender James Rogers, said Baker is sorry for his actions.

“He tells me he is not going to do this again,’’ Rogers said.

After pleading guilty, Baker helped prosecutors with the investigation that involved at least five other men with South Carolina ties. They also have pleaded guilty in federal court. Holliday declined to comment when asked if the investigation was continuing. A pre-sentencing court document says the names of some people who conspired with Baker are sealed.

Baker, whose parents went to prison when he was 8 years old, was found guilty of a wildlife trafficking charge in 2015 for selling rare spotted turtles, but he received probation.

Federal officials became aware of the latest operation in 2016 when inspectors opened packages at New York’s JFK International Airport and found 48 endangered Chinese and South American turtles nestled in piles of candy and noodles.

Jason Hsu, a New York man arrested in that case, told authorities about the South Carolina conspirators. He was a key connection for S.C. turtle smugglers, according to evidence in the case. The smugglers used Facebook to keep in touch with each other, according to evidence. The scheme involved turtle dealers in New York, Hong Kong and the Carolinas.

South Carolina, with its marshes, lakes and low-lying country, is known as a prime breeding ground for numerous kinds of turtles that fetch high prices in China. A lot of money can also be made smuggling turtles, some of which are worth thousands of dollars on the international black market. For example, one rare Indian Star Tortoise, a species smuggled into the U.S. by Baker’s ring, can sell for more than $2,000.

A neighbor of Baker’s told The State last year that Baker once earned $100,000 dealing in turtles from his home in the Holly Hill area.

South Carolina is a prime spot for reptile smugglers because state laws are relatively weak. In one case, a Florida man imported more than 200 deadly African snakes to South Carolina through the Atlanta airport.

The shadowy reptile trading industry is imperiling native species in the Palmetto State as Chinese traders seek turtles for pets or food to replace once abundant species in Asia, The State reported in an investigative series last year.

Last week, a Harleyville father and son — William “Bill” Fischer, 48, and Matt Fischer, 26 — were sentenced to probation for their relatively minor roles in Baker’s smuggling operation. Evidence in the case showed the Fischers received packages of money or small numbers of smuggled turtles. The elder Fischer attended Monday’s sentencing hearing. He said before the hearing he hoped the judge would “throw the book’’ at Baker.

Another S.C. turtle smuggler, Joseph Logan Brooks, 29, believed to be from Rock Hill, received five months in prison for his part in the scheme.

Turtle smuggling is just one of various environmental crimes that target endangered or prohibited wildlife. Other creatures and items smuggled into or out of the United States include snakes, rhinoceros horns and elephant tusks, as well as various kinds of plants.

“I am pleased with the outcome of the investigation and prosecution to date,’’ said Tom Chisdock, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service agent who investigated the case. “It’s been successful due to the cooperation of several state and federal partners.’’
Old 05-03-2019, 02:46 PM   #23
Kail Sentenced

Man gets prison for smuggling turtles in candy wrappers

May 2, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A Florida man has been sentenced to a year in prison for his part in a reptile smuggling ring that stretched from South Carolina to Hong Kong.

The State reports Matthew Harrison Kail was sentenced Tuesday for the scheme that involved hiding rare turtles in candy wrappers or socks and shipping them overseas.

Prosecutors said Kail was a key part of the operation, which was led in South Carolina by Steven Verren Baker. Baker, of Georgia, was ordered in March to serve just over a year in prison. Authorities have said Baker’s one of South Carolina’s most well-known wildlife traders.

The newspaper says these are believed to be the state’s first prison sentences for illegal wildlife trading. Several other people in the scheme have been sentenced to probation and fines.
Old 05-06-2019, 11:49 AM   #24
Black Adder
A sort of Justice was served, should have been FAR longer sentences imho.
Old 05-06-2019, 11:57 AM   #25
Originally Posted by Black Adder View Post
A sort of Justice was served, should have been FAR longer sentences imho.
Often the folks who get the lighter sentences such as probation or time served in these cases are snitches... just something to consider in future dealings...
Old 05-06-2019, 12:17 PM   #26
I wish they'd throw Rance in jail. His blatant disregard for the law and all things decent is obvious. He absolutely did not give a crap that he was allowing dozens of ball pythons and other snakes to escape into a south Georgia neighborhood last year. I suspect he released them intentionally as a FU to local keepers who ostracized him because he's a used feminine product.
Old 06-18-2019, 10:22 AM   #27
New Jersey man sentenced for role in turtle smuggling scheme

New Jersey man sentenced for role in turtle smuggling scheme

June 18, 2019

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — A New Jersey wildlife trader has been sentenced to two years’ probation for his role in a reptile smuggling ring that stretched from South Carolina to Hong Kong.

The State reports 26-year-old William “Billy” Gangemi was sentenced Monday for conspiracy to smuggle wildlife in the scheme that involved hiding rare turtles in candy wrappers or socks and shipping them overseas.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office says Gangemi avoided prison time as his role in the scheme — collecting the turtles — wasn’t as extensive as his counterparts.

South Carolina ringleader Steven Verren Baker, Matt Kail and Joseph Logan Brooks previously were each sentenced to prison in the scheme. The newspaper says these are believed to the first prison sentences in the state for illegal turtle trading.
Old 10-24-2019, 11:53 AM   #28
NJ Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Over 1,000 Illegally Collected Box Turtles from OK

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Oklahoma

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

New Jersey Man Pleads Guilty to Smuggling Over 1,000 Illegally Collected Box Turtles from Oklahoma

TULSA, Okla. – A New Jersey man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to conspiring with others to purchase, transport and sell more than 1,000 box turtles that were unlawfully collected from the state of Oklahoma, announced U.S. Attorney Trent Shores.

From May 1, 2017 to May 31, 2018, William T. Gangemi, 26, of Freehold, New Jersey, knowingly facilitated the purchase and transport of unlawfully collected three-toed and western (ornate) box turtles from Oklahoma to New Jersey in order to sell them for profit. Gangemi was part of a syndicate of wildlife smugglers where protected turtles were exchanged back and forth between the United States and China.

By smuggling the turtles, Gangemi violated the Lacey Act, a federal law which makes it a felony to engage in the sale or purchase of protected wildlife with a market value in excess of $350 knowing that the wildlife was taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of laws or regulations of any state. In Oklahoma, the collection of both types of box turtles for commercial purposes is against the law. Box turtles reach sexual maturity at approximately 10 years of age and have a high nest and juvenile mortality rate. Due to these factors, the harvest of the turtles can have highly detrimental effects on populations.

“Oklahomans respect and value wildlife, and we don’t appreciate those who would seek to exploit our vulnerable wildlife populations for their corrupt greed. Laws created by Congress to protect wildlife, like the box turtle, will be enforced by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Defendant Gangemi flagrantly violated state and federal laws by illegally collecting and exporting box turtles to the black market,” said U.S. Attorney Trent Shores. “As a result of the diligent investigative work undertaken by agents from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, Mr. Gangemi must now face the consequences.”

“This case is an excellent example of how state and federal law enforcement agencies work together to combat the illegal wildlife trade," said Phillip Land, a Special Agent in Charge for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. "We would like to thank the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U. S. Attorney's Office for their assistance with this case. Together, we can hold traffickers accountable and protect imperiled species for future generations."

As part of his plea agreement, Gangemi agreed to pay $250,000 in restitution to the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and a $100,000 fine to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for violation of the Lacey Act. The final restitution and fine amounts will be determined by the Court at the time of sentencing, which is scheduled for Jan. 27, 2020.

Gangemi also pleaded guilty to additional federal charges for trafficking wildlife in South Carolina and New Jersey.

The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service conducted the investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ryan M. Roberts is prosecuting the case.

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