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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 07-10-2018, 01:34 PM   #1
SC’s booming black market for deadly snakes and exotic turtles puts animals in peril

These two articles about SC's laws were added to several BOI posts. Rather than clutter up the BOI with the subsequent discussion, I've put the info here since I do believe the points raised in the articles are worth pursuing.

Information about the specific individuals involved should be made on their BOI threads, not here.

He imported 220 deadly snakes to SC, where illegal animal trade is growing

By Sammy Fretwell
July 06, 2018 11:37 AM

Dozens of people, including some of the state's biggest wildlife traffickers, are drawing federal and state scrutiny over their roles in buying and selling wild animals in South Carolina, a state with a growing reputation for black market wildlife dealing.

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources says it is looking into at least 15 cases of people suspected of breaking state or federal wildlife trade laws. The agency also has passed along the names of up to 30 other suspects to federal authorities or outdoors agencies in other states.

Three of those under scrutiny have been among the biggest wildlife traders in South Carolina, DNR spokesman Robert McCullough said.

Among them is Ashtyn Rance, a Florida man who recently transported hundreds of venomous African snakes to South Carolina and offered them for sale. Some of the snakes have bites lethal enough to kill people in little more than an hour.

Another is Steven Verren Baker of Holly Hill, known for his prowess at finding and exporting native S.C. turtles to China from his home in the woods of Orangeburg County. A gang of people associated with Baker face federal charges.

The death last year of a third major dealer, Freddie Lee Herman Jr., has sparked inquiries into people with whom he associated, McCullough said.

The booming reptile trade is lucrative for dealers, in some cases bringing in tens of thousands of dollars for each sale. But it relies on packaging animals in boxes and shipping them around the world without food and water. The animals also aren't checked for disease that could be spread if they survive the trips.

Finding out about illicit operations is a challenge.

"These guys are very clannish,'' a DNR source familiar with the investigations said. "It just takes so long, and it is so hard to gain their trust in these investigations.''

Winston Holliday, an assistant U.S. attorney in Columbia, said efforts will continue to stop the illegal wildlife trade. It's important to prevent imported animals from spreading disease to people or other animals, while preventing exotic animals from establishing themselves in the state, he said.

Snakes on a plane

Rance, a 32-year-old ex-convict from Florida, has run into trouble in the past two months over deadly African snakes. He imported 220 snakes from Africa to Atlanta with plans to sell them in South Carolina at a wildlife show, according to Georgia records and law enforcement authorities interviewed by The State newspaper.

Rance, who has had run-ins with Florida wildlife authorities since 2006, was required by Georgia officials to take the venomous snakes to an address in rural Saluda County within 24 hours of the serpents landing in Atlanta, according to an April 30 import permit he received from the state of Georgia.

But Georgia state investigators say he didn’t get rid of all the snakes in South Carolina, as required. They searched Rance’s property in Valdosta, Ga., two months ago, finding dozens of venomous serpents, Georgia authorities said. Unlike in South Carolina, it is illegal in Georgia to keep or sell exotic venomous snakes without permits.

Among the snakes bound for South Carolina were 20 spitting cobras,15 bush vipers, 100 Gaboon vipers and a pair of black forest cobras, according to his import permit. All have venom deadly enough to kill or permanently maim a person.

Venom from a forest cobra can kill a person within a few hours, depending on the circumstances. Spitting cobras can blind people who receive a shot of the serpent’s venom in their eyes.

“We seized some exotic venomous wild animals that would be inherently dangerous,’’ Georgia Department of Natural Resources investigator Chad Welch said of the raid. Welch said no charges have been filed, but the case remains under investigation.

Despite the dangers, snakes like those Rance brought to the U.S. are prized by many reptile collectors, who often will pay hundreds of dollars for them because the serpents are exotic.

Rance said he’s done nothing wrong.

Rance, who said he has homes in Florida and Georgia, said he took all the venomous snakes to a wildlife show in the Columbia area, as required by Georgia authorities. He claims the snakes seized in south Georgia were nonvenomous.

“It was really nothing,’’ he said. “They haven’t even charged me yet.’’

Rance’s April 30 Georgia import permit shows he was approved to bring venomous snakes to Atlanta from Africa, but it makes no mention of bringing nonvenomous snakes from the wildlife-rich continent.

Rance has had troubles with law enforcement officers before. From July 2007 to February 2009, he was in a Florida prison serving time on a charge of battering a child, prison records show. Last year, Rance was arrested multiple times in Florida on wildlife charges, records show.

In one case, he faced a dozen charges of possessing wildlife without a permit after being accused of selling pink-toed tarantulas and boa constrictors, records show.

In another case, he was charged with wildlife transport violations following a traffic stop in the Florida Keys. When authorities looked in his vehicle, they found 27 geckos,33 green iguanas, a rat snake and 37 hermit crabs, the Miami Herald reported in 2017.

Three years earlier, Rance was convicted of possessing a venomous reptile without a license in Brevard County, Fla, according to an April 29, 2016 Florida wildlife agency letter that denied him a license to possess and sell wildlife. He has a conviction dating to 2006 of cruelty to animals, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission letter said.

“They have dealt with him multiple times over the years down there,’’ Georgia’s Welch said. “It’s not like a one-time deal.’’

Rance, who said he was entrapped by police in Florida, said doing business in South Carolina is easier than in the Sunshine State. But he intends to quit the reptile trading business because it is no longer worth the hassle.

“There is no way to do this business legally doing what I do,’’ he said. “There is always a stupid gray line that (you are) going to cross and they have an option to charge you or not.’’

Turtle trading gang

While multiple wildlife cases are ongoing, one of the biggest wildlife traders in South Carolina is sitting in a Richland County jail cell waiting to help federal investigators in their continuing probe of an illicit East Coast reptile trading operation.

Steven Baker, a 38-year-old Holly Hill man whose troubles with the law date back at least 14 years, pleaded guilty June 19 to federal wildlife smuggling conspiracy charges for his role in what prosecutors said was an international reptile trading operation with ties to New York and Hong Kong.

Baker signed a plea deal and is awaiting sentencing later this summer. In his plea agreement with federal prosecutors he promised to help the investigation in the hope of reducing any time he faces in prison. Baker admitted his role in illegally trafficking in rare turtles during the June 19 court hearing in which he pleaded guilty to federal charges.

Some suspects from New York and China were involved, as were five other men with S.C. connections. All are accused of working with Baker. Those with South Carolina ties have pleaded not guilty to a variety of illegal wildlife charges and are awaiting trial later this year in Columbia. Those men are:

Joseph Logan Brooks, a Baker business associate accused of receiving rare turtles at a house he and Baker claimed as their address in rural Orangeburg County

William and Matthew Fischer, a father and son accused of receiving packages from Hong Kong at addresses in Harleyville. Money also went into a family bank account, according to charges against them.

Matthew H. Kail, a Florida man accused of trapping protected turtles from a N.C. wildlife refuge

William Gangemi, a New Jersey man accused of participating in the illicit wildlife trading business

Their attorneys declined comment.

Baker, however, was described by prosecutors as the ringleader, who had years of experience collecting and buying turtles from his home in Holly Hill, a small community in Orangeburg County. Baker sometimes paid locals for turtles they collected in the area, said a former neighbor, Daniel Bibby.

Baker “has always been into reptiles, turtles and snakes and lizards and stuff like that,'' Bibby said. But it was a surprise that he began to run into trouble with authorities as he continued with the reptile trading business, said Bibby, who said he has known Baker since childhood.

“You can never tell til someone gets arrested,’’ Bibby said.

Baker’s troubles began when he was accused in 2004 of stealing $21,000 worth of reptiles and amphibians from a Ladson animal exhibit. Since then, Baker has been accused by authorities of wildlife crimes, often involving the sale and import of rare turtles.

Sometimes, Baker used Facebook messages to set up deals with foreign traders, who either wanted U.S. turtles or who wanted to sell Asian turtles in America, say federal prosecutors.

In 2015, Baker was found guilty on federal wildlife trafficking charges. Federal authorities said Baker was illegally selling rare spotted turtles from a business he ran out of his home. He received three years probation for wildlife trafficking and owning firearms, which is not allowed since he was already a convicted felon, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Columbia.

But his troubles didn’t stop there. In 2017, he was found guilty of nonpayment of child support in Berkeley County. Several weeks earlier, Baker was charged with two counts of domestic violence after authorities said he choked and struck a woman, causing her lip to bleed and swell.

Baker’s most recent brush with the law began when he was accused by federal authorities last winter of breaking wildlife trafficking laws. He disappeared after charges were filed, according to federal court records and the U.S. Attorney’s office in Columbia. U.S. Marshals arrested Baker in Walterboro about two months after the indictment. He has remained in a county jail ever since.

Baker’s court-appointed attorney, federal public defender Jimmy Rogers, declined comment.

The operation Baker helped run involved turtles valued at as much as $400,000, federal prosecutors say. During one five-week stretch beginning on March 30 of 2016, an associate of Baker’s and Baker’s common law wife received $31,719 in payments as a result of wildlife trading, records show.

On April 11 of 2016, Baker associate Matthew Fischer received $13,473 from the King Chi Trading Co. in Hong Kong. He then wrote Baker a check for $13,273, according to the federal indictment..

The indictment said the men “fraudulently and knowingly’’ imported and exported species in violation of federal law. Turtles involved in the illicit trading were from China, India, South America and South Carolina, records show.

Wildlife trafficker murdered

One wildlife trader who won’t be indicted is Freddie "Snakeman" Herman of Chesterfield County. The bearded, long-haired Herman was shot and killed outside his mobile home last year in what turned out to be a bizarre case for authorities because his home was crawling with reptiles.

Evidence discovered at his home has led state investigators to people they suspect were involved in illegal wildlife trading through Herman, a former Myrtle Beach resident who was 33 when he died.

An investigator with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources said his agency now is looking at eight people connected to Herman’s international wildlife dealing. The Herman case was a significant break for state officials because they say they didn’t have any idea he was involved in the trade.

The department “learned the identity of many new individuals, foreign and domestic, involved in the trade,’’ according to an agency report obtained by The State newspaper.

When Chesterfield County sheriff’s deputies arrived at Herman’s trailer in June 2017 to investigate reports of gunshots, they found signs warning of venomous snakes on the door and Herman lying dead in the yard.

“The place was horrible,’’ Chesterfield Sheriff Jay Brooks said. “You couldn’t stand the smell inside. All these snakes were in aquariums or some of them were just in rubber boxes. There was one, some type of python, that was dead in the bathroom.’’

The S.C. Department of Natural Resources helped secure the area and officials say they later learned through the search that Herman had been dealing reptiles. Cellphones and computers at the home were full of information about the wildlife trade, state officials said.

It’s unclear whether the killing had anything to do with his business, but Sheriff Brooks and Chesterfield County prosecutors said it appeared to be the result of a domestic dispute. The case has not gone to trial.

Some of Herman's friends spoke highly of him after his death, saying he was a kind man who loved animals.

Gila monsters and spotted turtles

As investigations continue, others who have run into trouble in recent years include Ray Roberson and Jonathan Sampson Benson.

Roberson, whose Facebook page is full of conservative postings and support for the Confederate Flag, pleaded guilty to violating federal wildlife laws in 2015.

Roberson, who ran a business called Apostle Reptiles, told an undercover wildlife agent that he was earning $9,000 per week selling spotted turtles in multiple states, court records show. It is illegal in South Carolina to own a spotted turtle without a permit, which Roberson did not have, authorities said.

Another man who has been busted for breaking federal or state wildlife trading laws is Jonathan Sampson Benson, caught last year for capturing venomous Gila monsters in Arizona and selling them in South Carolina. He was charged with making similar transactions in 2014, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Benson, a former Greenville resident, was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine after pleading guilty.

SC’s booming black market for deadly snakes and exotic turtles puts animals in peril

SC’s booming black market for deadly snakes and exotic turtles puts animals in peril
By Sammy Fretwell
July 08, 2018 05:00 AM
Updated July 08, 2018 01:18 PM

The death of Freddie “Snakeman” Herman was unsettling enough for criminal investigators when they arrived at his ramshackle mobile home on a steamy morning last summer.

Herman’s body lay on the ground, lifeless from gunshot wounds. Flies swarmed in the yard, leaving little doubt Herman had been dead for hours.

But as they surveyed the murder scene in Chesterfield County, investigators learned that Herman was more than the victim of a domestic homicide. He was an international wildlife dealer they knew nothing about in a state where black market animal sales are quietly growing.

Snakes writhed in Herman's trailer and turtles splashed in backyard holding ponds, apparently awaiting shipment. On Herman’s computer, state natural resources investigators found electronic messages with mysterious wildlife brokers, as well as $76,000 in an account that they believe was filled with the proceeds of animal sales.

The discovery provided a new window into South Carolina's illicit and loosely regulated wildlife trade, a shadowy but lucrative industry that is imperiling native species, threatening to spread disease and attracting crooks to the Palmetto State.

And it's all happening in a state with limited ability to deal with the problem.

Wild animals, particularly reptiles, are beingcruelly packaged in tiny cartons and shipped overseas, many dying en route because they have no food or water. Other animals collected for sale in South Carolina are beginning to dwindle in their native environments, which could upset the balance of nature in swamps and woodlands across the state.

Reptiles, including dangerous snakes and rare turtles, often sought as food or exotic pets, are the major concern. But state investigators also are worried about the sale of disease-carrying hogs and deer, rare fish, and black bear parts such as gallbladders and paws.

“It’s significant,’’ state wildlife agency spokesman Robert McCullough said of the illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade. “There is enough going on out there to cause us concern.’’

Some dealers are trading native wildlife without getting caught because the state lacks officers. In Herman’s case, state investigators say they were stunned to learn the extent of his operation in Chesterfield County.

Other dealers are legally selling animals, such as highly venomous snakes, that could not be easily sold in other states with stricter wildlife laws.

A recent S.C. Department of Natural Resourcesreport said the agency is seeing an increase in people from other states bringing reptiles to South Carolina, then exporting them, because of the state’s limited wildlife laws. The agency also is seeing evidence that more people are trapping turtles and other reptiles for resale to other states, the report said.

It’s a significant enough issue that the DNR has assigned a handful of undercover agents to investigate illicit wildlife trading, even as state policymakers consider ways to strengthen minimal wildlife laws and provide more staff members to catch rogue animal dealers.

Wildlife traffickers get involved in the business because of the world’s insatiable demand for animals and the profits dealers can make when they sell wildlife. In a single year, some dealers have reportedly made $100,000 selling turtles, snakes and other reptiles.

Unlike in many states, it’s legal in South Carolina to buy a venomous cobra at a wildlife show or collect hundreds of turtles for potential sale to pet traders in Asia. It’s legal to buy a camel or porcupine at an animal auction with relatively few restrictions. And it’s legal for a handful of people to harvest rare baby eels, which can fetch $2,000 per pound in Asia.

Chad Welch, an investigator with the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, said South Carolina’s lack of wildlife trading laws sometimes encourages illicit importing of wildlife into Georgia, where restrictions on reptile sales are stronger.

“It’s easier to acquire wild animals when you can take a couple of hours' drive to South Carolina, buy them and bring them right back, ’’ he said.

Recently, a Florida man with a criminal record received permission from Georgia authorities to import 220 highly venomous snakes from Africa through the Atlanta airport — if he agreed to ship them to South Carolina within 24 hours after they landed. The shipment, coming from a contact in North Ghana, included spitting cobras and Gaboon vipers, toxic snakes popular in the reptile trade. The man planned to sell them here.

In another recently publicized case, a major player in an international turtle-trafficking scheme pleaded guilty in federal court to wildlife charges after admitting he was shipping and receiving highly endangered turtlesfrom his home in South Carolina. State authorities say loopholes in state wildlife laws made it easier for him to operate out of his house in Holly Hill.

According to an internal Department of Natural Resources report, South Carolina is one of five states with few or no laws regulating the ownership and sale of reptiles. The report says wildlife traders are slippery, well-connected and hard to catch.

“Many of the exporters operate in multiple states,’’ says the DNR report. “They will set up multiple residences or change residences often in states with lax reptile laws. They have a network of collectors who collect with or for them to fulfill orders. They communicate better than we do.’’

According to the DNR’s internal report, the Herman investigation revealed new ways that wildlife traders communicate and how they are paid for selling animals on the black market.

The DNR, for instance, says Herman was using an internet chatroom for video game enthusiasts to communicate with a wildlife buyer. Correspondence found on Herman’s computer shows that he was discussing the price of reptiles and how they could be exported to Europe.

“In Germany and France, they pay $800 to $1,200 per pair,’’ the chatroom note said. In the five months prior to his death, Herman received at least 11 Western Union payments from Hong Kong totaling $19,000, according to information the DNR obtained through the investigation. The agency said he was known at a Florence mailing center for regularly shipping packages filled with small animals.

A DNR informant, who asked not be named because he deals with wildlife traffickers, said he routinely gets text messages from Asian buyers seeking turtles.

In a string of texts obtained by The State newspaper, a buyer said he wanted 10 turtles shipped through Chicago, where he had friends. The potential buyer at one point suggested having the turtles shipped through Massachusetts and Florida, but the informant said “No, lol, they will put you in jail’’ in the Sunshine State, according to the string of texts.

Weak state laws in South Carolina encourage the growth of illegal dealing by making it easier for people to amass large numbers of animals for sale on the black market.

That's particularly true with reptiles. While the state restricts the export of many types of turtles, the law doesn't restrict people from owning as many of those species as they want, said Will Dillman, an agency reptile biologist and assistant wildlife chief.

Some out-of-state turtle trappers bring their catch to South Carolina and keep animals here until they can resell them to other countries — a practice called “turtle laundering.’’ Turtles are important to the environment because they spread seeds that lead to plant growth and make dens that can be used by other animals. They also are vital to keeping ponds clean because they scavenge for dead fish and other animals in the water.

Many of the wildlife cases made in South Carolina are brought by the federal government, which has more consistent and stricter laws than states do. But federal prosecutors have more than their share of cases that take a higher priority than wildlife crimes.

Some counties and cities in South Carolina, including the city of Columbia and Richland County, have exotic pet laws that limit venomous snake ownership and sales. But others do not. That allows wildlife shows to set up shop in counties like Lexington and sell venomous reptiles.

“We have a patchwork of different state laws on some species,’’ said Iris Ho, a senior wildlife policy specialist with the Humane Society International. “Something could be protected in one state, but not in another, like South Carolina.’’

Law enforcement authorities have said some restrictions are needed because drug dealers sometimes also trade in wildlife. In some cases, when officers show up for a drug bust, they have run into dangerous reptiles, authorities say.

Some legitimate wildlife dealers say they could support stricter state oversight of some types of wildlife dealing to weed out the shady businesses that give their industry a bad name.

“There are a lot of weird people importing stuff they ain’t supposed to be importing,’’ wildlife dealer Jonathan McMillan said during a break in a June 9 Repticon wildlife show at the Greenville Shrine Club. “They’re out catching things just to catch them and they are shipping stuff out that is not supposed to be shipped out of the country. There are a couple of bad apples.’’

Ashtyn Rance, the dealer with permission to import African snakes to South Carolina, said concerns about the wildlife trade are overblown. States like South Carolina have looser laws that allow businesses to operate without hassle, he said. In contrast, wildlife laws in Florida are so strict that they have allowed authorities to harass him, said Rance, who has a string of wildlife-related arrests in Florida.

“There are rapists and murderers and drug traffickers’’ that deserve a high priority for prosecution, Rance said. “Yet they want to come after some (expletive) animals. They have nothing better to do?’’

Tightening South Carolina’s wildlife laws, including for trafficking, is a tough sell in the Legislature because lawmakers usually have other priorities, said Steve Bennett, a retired DNR reptile biologist involved with past efforts to strengthen laws. South Carolina is one of the few states that require the Legislature, rather than a natural resources agency, to set virtually all wildlife rules, he said.

Bear paws on the black market

South Carolina’s issues with wildlife trafficking are a piece of a global problem that generates up to $20 billion in sales annually, according to the Humane Society International. Everything from elephant tusks to turtle meat can be found on the international black market.

Reptiles are the biggest wildlife commodity being moved illegally in the Southeast, largely because the area has such a rich diversity of the animals — and many of them, like turtles, are easy to catch, experts say.

Depending on the species, a single turtle can fetch upwards of $10,000 on the black market in Asia. Rattlesnakes from South Carolina can easily sell for $200 in places like New York, where collectors seek exotic animals, according to the S.C DNR.

That translates to a nice income for some traders. In one case, a Holly Hill man with an extensive criminal record from wildlife trading earned more than $100,000 one year, according to a neighbor and law enforcement authorities.

Even people not involved in illegal wildlife trafficking say it’s common knowledge that selling reptiles is lucrative.

“It’s something everybody knows you can make good money on,’’ said Daniel Bibby, an Orangeburg County resident who lives next door to Steven Baker, a wildlife trader with a history of violations.

Some species that once were nearly worthless have soared to thousands of dollars apiece, only to fall again once the thrill of owning that species has waned, said Jordan Gray, a spokesman for the Turtle Survival Alliance, an international reptile protection group headquartered in Charleston.

“The way turtles and tortoises go, it’s almost like clothing purchases for a season,’’ Gray said. “You see these fads.’’

Black bear parts, such as skins, gallbladders and paws, also are highly sought after in some Asian countries for traditional medicines or as souvenirs. A bear gallbladder will reportedly sell for up to $3,000 in China, according to The Los Angeles Times.

In South Carolina, where bear hunting is legal, the DNR recently ticketed men in North Augusta and Spartanburg for trying to deal other bear parts.

In one of the cases, a suspect was trying to sell a bear skin, with the claws attached, for about $1,800, a law enforcement source said. After he was ticketed, the man suspected of trying to sell the bear skin said “‘Thanks,’ then three days later, he had posted it up for sale again,’’ the law enforcement source told The State.

The other bear case included the sale of skulls, claws and other parts, which were offered for sale for about $10,500, according to the DNR.

Illegally harvesting baby eels for sale to Asia landed three S.C. men in hot water two years ago after federal investigators discovered they had trafficked more than $740,000 worth of the eels. All three pleaded guilty to violating the Lacey Act, a federal law that governs illegal wildlife trafficking. South Carolina grants 10 permits for people to harvest the little eels, making any other harvest illegal.

Hogs, deer and disease

While S.C. law offers few limits on the sale of dangerous snakes and many types of reptiles, the state does have stronger laws to control the trade in other species, such as wild hogs and deer, according to the DNR.The Legislature also recently banned the ownership and sale of big exotic cats, such as African lions and American cougars, as well as chimpanzees and non-native bears.

But it’s not hard to break state laws and get away with it because of limited state resources, DNR spokesman McCullough said.

Trucks filled with hogs sometimes sneak across the state line because South Carolina doesn’t have enough wildlife officers to stop the movement, McCullough and DNR big game coordinator Charles Ruth said. The pigs are usually headed to hunting preserves to give shooters a better chance at bagging a hog. Unfortunately, some of the pigs escape and are adding to the state’s wild hog problem, according to the DNR.

““You’d think with an invasive species like this, we’d already have plenty,’’ McCullough said. “But people bring hogs in because somebody wants them to hunt.’’

Hogs can carry brucellosis, a disease that not only makes animals sick but can infect people and give them fevers. Imported deer sometimes carry chronic wasting disease, an ailment that can sicken native deer populations in a state where hunting is popular. Reptiles often carry salmonella, an illness that causes violent stomach ailments in people.

The agency needs more than 300 officers, but today has 265, McCullough said. Its special investigative unit has six agents who also investigate wildlife crimes aside from illegal trading.

Sometimes, the DNR does catch people trying to bring in hogs. Last fall, the agency arrested a Georgia man for illegally importing 10 wild pigs to Edgefield County. He was found guilty in magistrate’s court in December, records show.

Hogs are responsible for decimating a sea turtle population on a barrier island off the coast of South Carolina. Hunters, environmentalists and DNR have joined forces to knock back the hog population.

The illegal and loosely regulated wildlife trade affects South Carolina both in what is being brought here, and what is being shipped to overseas markets.

Among the native animals in peril are box turtles and spotted turtles— rare reptiles with fragile populations that scientists say are harder to find today than in years past.

Turtles are being shipped to China and other Asian countries, where many native reptiles have disappeared, to be used as pets or food. Scientists are particularly worried about what appear to be dwindling turtle populations in an area between Orangeburg and Walterboro, where many people busted for wildlife crimes operate.

“We know there are people out there collecting,’’ former DNR biologist Bennett said. “But there’s not always a way to enforce things, to check up on these people. If you happen to catch one occasionally, that’s fine.’’

Originally Posted by JCCS View Post
I just saw this. I will say the shows are better now than they were in the past, but it's still very loose. I used to see people with 20-30 baby copperheads in pickle jars selling them for like $10 each. Black mambas in deli containers loose on the table. It was nuts. To be honest, there needs to be significant regulation on wild animal trade and venomous.
Originally Posted by scales69 View Post
and as for Repticon, we herpers are already looked at oddly due to our hobby, when you get sh*tbags like Rance making headlines every week for violating another wildlife law and then being seen at shows selling wildlife, how crappy an image does that make. We need to police our own to improve our image and companies like Repticon, if they refuse to clean up their image, they need to be shut down. Because if we dont do it, the pissed of and scared public/ government will.
Originally Posted by DrummingT View Post
No sir, there are far too many laws and regulations now, especially as concerns venomous snakes.

The number of people keeping venomous snakes is far higher than anyone realizes and most - overwhelmingly so - are keeping them illegally.


Because keeping venomous snakes is illegal almost everywhere people live in the USA. There are zero states in this country where keeping venomous snakes is allowed everywhere in the state. Every metro area of any size in a state that allows venomous snake keeping and sales has local laws prohibiting that activity.

South Carolina is like that, Pennsylvania is like that. There are so many laws and regulations banning the keeping of venomous snakes that the activity is defacto illegal for almost everyone.

I read the comments of that first posted article and they are horribly ignorant and some are clearly stupid.
Originally Posted by Black Adder View Post
I actually think you are misinformed on the state of South Carolina.
I can tell for a FACT that dealers, traders, enthusiasts etc flock to the SC shows in hordes from Florida, for one huge reason....venomous.
Off topic so saying no more about it but do some research of SC reptile shows....
Originally Posted by Snake-Queen View Post
I know for a fact that I can buy any species of venomous I want in SC, especially in Columbia.

I've no city/county or state laws that prevent me from owning them where I live in NC.
Old 07-10-2018, 02:04 PM   #2
Robert Walker
Thanks for posting this here Melinda, especially since it contains the names of individuals involved in these types of acts.
Old 07-10-2018, 04:50 PM   #3
Freddie "Snakeman" Herman

I did a Google search and I can't even find a story on this guys death. A human being is gunned down in cold blood and the only mention of his death is in stories about his alleged reptile trafficking.

Scum drug dealers get shot and have a dozen links to their deaths and often followed up with dozens more stories about them as their murder is investigated.

Freddie "Snakeman" Herman? Nothing at all.
Old 07-10-2018, 05:07 PM   #4

Some counties and cities in South Carolina, including the city of Columbia and Richland County, have exotic pet laws that limit venomous snake ownership and sales.

I imagine that most people from South Carolina who leave the reptile show with a venomous snake believe it is legal for them to own in Columbia or the other cities and counties where they are illegal. Why would someone think it was legal in the state but illegal in their county or city?

Most people in the USA who keep venomous snakes do so illegally. Yet there are still people crying for more laws and regulations.

The USA has five percent of the world's people but has twenty-five percent of the world's prisoners. The USA is already the world's largest penal colony, the largest in world history.

We don't need any more laws or anymore prisoners. We are the most over policed and prosecuted people in world history. Not everyone makes it to jail or prison though. Police in the USA kill over one thousand Americans every year.
Old 07-10-2018, 10:36 PM   #5
Originally Posted by DrummingT View Post
Freddie "Snakeman" Herman

I did a Google search and I can't even find a story on this guys death. A human being is gunned down in cold blood and the only mention of his death is in stories about his alleged reptile trafficking.
You need to work on your google fu... drop the "snakeman" portion of the name from the search and search his name and death and South Carolina and you get things like this as the first response...
Two people were arrested Tuesday in connection to a homicide investigation in Chesterfield County.

Thomas Craig Overstreet, 23, and Michela Viteritto, 18, are both charged with murder and use of a firearm during a violent crime in the death of 33-year-old Freddie Lee Herman Jr.

Herman was found dead outside a home full of venomous pet snakes and malnourished dogs on Sam Jones Road on Thursday, June 15. Officials say he had been shot multiple times.

PREVIOUS: Venomous snakes, other animals slow SC deadly shooting investigation

Investigators say they believe Overstreet and Viteritto got into an argument with Herman. During that argument, they say Herman was shot twice with a shotgun.

Neighbors reported hearing an argument followed by gunshots at the home between 12:30 and 1 a.m. but did not check on Herman until the afternoon because it was "not unusual for gunshots to be fired at the home in the middle of the night," according to the report.

Investigators said "several malnourished pit bulls, as well as around 30 box turtles and some wild pigs that had been caged" were found at the scene. Inside, deputies found aquariums with rattlesnakes, copperheads, pythons, a cobra, and at least two snapping turtles.


"Freddy didn't live there, that was where he had his reptile business," said the victim's father, Freddy Herman Sr. "Freddy loved animals. There was another guy who was supposed to be helping take care of them."

Herman Sr. said his son's reptile business was "doing very well."

Authorities called in a company specializing in venomous snake removal to help clear the scene. Chesterfield County Animal Control also assisted at the scene.

Investigators have not said anything about possible suspects.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office at 843-623-2101.

Copyright 2017 WBTV. All rights reserved.

Venomous snakes, snapping turtles slow down SC death investigation

June 16, 2017 09:53 AM

Updated June 16, 2017 03:25 PM

| WBTV Charlotte
Deputies investigating a South Carolina man’s death discovered several wild animals in the man’s home.

According to WBTV, Freddie Lee Herman was found dead with several gunshot wounds outside of his Sam Jones Road home Thursday.

The news station reported neighbors heard an argument and then gunshots at the home between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Thursday.
Investigators told WBTV several malnourished pit bulls, about 30 box turtles, two snapping turtles, wild pigs and several snakes were found in the home. Some of the snakes included rattlesnakes, copperheads, pythons and a cobra.

A company that specializes in venomous snake removal helped clear the scene with the assistance of Chesterfield County Animal Control, according to WBTV.

Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call the Chesterfield County Sheriff's Office at 843-623-2101.
some comments

Old 07-11-2018, 09:03 AM   #6
You need to work on your google... drop the "snakeman" portion of the name from the search

Apparently "snakeman" triggers Google's "Russia algorithm" and all the usual results are shadow banned. I used "Chesterfield county" on my second try and that didn't produce anything either. Don't mess with Google's Russia algorithm.

A company that specializes in venomous snake removal helped clear the scene with the assistance of Chesterfield County Animal Control

I'm sure everything needed to handle those snakes was right there with the snakes. Likely hooks, gloves and buckets/Rubbermaid Brute. The media makes it sound like venomous snakes have special powers and you need to bring in the Navy Seals as if you were faced with Godzilla.

The only animals that survived their removal by animal control for at least a week were the pitbulls. Everything else was killed. The media never mention that.

Also, have you ever read a story of reptiles being taken where the animal control did not accuse the owner of keeping them in appalling conditions? Pictures? Video? Almost never. Likely because the few times that pics and video are produced is the only time Animal Control wasn't telling lies to justify their crimes.

"We're going to save these rattlesnakes and cobras from their irresponsible owner by throwing them in a freezer and killing them."

I'm sure the rattlesnakes and cobras felt differently about that.

Most people think the snapping turtles were released. No sir, not Animal Control. They killed those turtles. They killed the pigs. They killed everything immediately except the dogs.
Old 07-11-2018, 04:36 PM   #7
Black Adder
As far as I am aware there is NO prohibition of owning "hots: in Colombia, SC.
Quite the opposite in fact as one of the most eagerly awaited and attended Repticon is held there and people come from many different states.

Don't you think USFWS would be waiting at the exit and charge everybody who bought a hot at the show right there and then if this was the case?

Do you think the show would exist and vendors be allowed to sell hots to SC natives if this was the case?

I am no expert and could be wrong but I personally know 2 Florida dealers/breeders who travel to SC for hot shows regularly.
Old 07-11-2018, 04:59 PM   #8
"Don't you think USFWS would be waiting at the exit and charge everybody...."

That's the Feds. No, the Feds wouldn't have anything to do with it. If it's a Columbia ordinance then neither would the State of South Carolina. Local ordinances are enforced by local police and local animal control and their local courts.

It's possible that sales are not prohibited in Columbia, but ownership is. It's also possible that the Repticon isn't really in Columbia but bordering it and is unaffected.
Lastly, the article could be wrong and it's a different city in South Carolina that has laws prohibiting both sales and ownership and the reporter mixed up the city where the reptile show is held with the city that bans ownership of venomous snakes.

I know there is another reptile show held in South Carolina and venomous are banned from that show because of the local laws.

Same thing in Pennsylvania. Major metro areas ban ownership and sales in Pennsylvania but there are shows all over the state selling them because state law does not.

There is no Federal law banning sales or importation of venomous snakes.
Old 07-11-2018, 05:56 PM   #9
Black Adder
Substitute USFWS for the local WS, or animal contr or local sherrif even, the point I was attempting to make is still valid I believe.

Now there MAY be a town somewhere in SC with a hots ordinance in place.

But generally SC is so lax on its hots laws and enforcement it is becoming an ever increasing problem with pressure escalating for SC officials to take action.

Rance is a perfect example, it was deemed ok for him to import 200+ hots as long as he moved them to SC within 24 hours.
The clown could not even comply with that extraordinary lenient condition and deserves everything he gets!
Old 08-06-2018, 01:03 PM   #10
Phil Bradley
A quick scan of the Columbia, SC municipal code shows that venomous reptiles are indeed prohibited (reference DIVISION 2. - DANGEROUS ANIMALS Sec. 4-91. - Prohibited; exceptions from this website Here is the language that pertains to herps:

(a) Except as provided in subsection 4-91(d), it shall be unlawful for any person to own, keep, harbor or act as custodian of a:

(2) a. Nondomestic member of the family felidae;
i. Alligator, crocodile and caiman;
j. Scorpion;
k. Constricting snake of the following species: reticulated python, python reticulatus; Burmese/Indian rock python, python molurus; rock python, python sebae, and anaconda, eunectes murinus;
l. Venomous reptile; or
m. Lizard over two feet which are members of the family varanidae.

(b) It shall be unlawful for any person to expose to public view or contact, exhibit either gratuitously or for a fee, any wild or feral animals identified in subsection 4-91(c), or any animal of mixed domestication and feral lineage within the corporate limits of the city on public or private property, except as provided in subsection 4-91(d).

(c) Wild or feral animal means: (1) Any animal which is not naturally tame or gentle, and which is of a wild nature or disposition, and which is capable of killing, inflicting serious injury upon, or causing disease among, human beings or domestic animals and having known tendencies as a species to do so; (2) Any animal declared to be illegal by the animal superintendent or the city manager or his or her designee; (3) Any nondomesticated member of the order Carnivora; (4) The following animals which shall be deemed to be wild or feral animals per se: a. All nondomestic members of the family felidae; b. Wolves, wolf-dog hybrids containing any percentage of wolf, coyotes and foxes; c. Badgers, wolverines, weasels, skunks and mink; d. Raccoons; e. Bears; f. Nonhuman primates to include apes, monkeys, baboons, macaques, lemurs, marmosets, tamarins and other species of the order primates; g. Bats; h. Alligators, crocodiles and caimans; i. Scorpions; j. Any snakes or venomous reptile; or k. Lizards over two feet which are members of the family varanidae;

(d) The prohibition contained in subsections (a), (b) and (c) above, shall not apply to the keeping of wild or feral animals in the following circumstances: (1) The keeping of wild or feral animals in a public zoo, bona fide education or medical institution, humane society, or museum where they are kept as live specimens for the public to view, or for the purpose of instruction, research or study. (2) The keeping of wild or feral animals for exhibition to the public by a bona fide traveling circus, carnival, exhibit or show, properly licensed and permitted by state and local law. (3) The keeping of wild or feral animals in a bona fide, licensed veterinary hospital for treatment.

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