A Holly Hill man has been sentenced to federal prison for his role in a turtle smuggling operation.
Steven Verren Baker, 38, who is known locally as “Turtle Man,” was sentenced to two years and three months in federal prison after pleading guilty to participating in a conspiracy to smuggle wildlife, according to U.S. Attorney Sherri A. Lydon.
Senior U.S. District Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. of Columbia imposed the sentence and ordered Baker to forfeit $263,225 in proceeds.
On Feb. 27, Joseph Logan Brooks, 29, formerly of Holly Hill, was sentenced to five months incarceration and five months home confinement for his participation in the conspiracy.
Fellow conspirator Matthew Tyler Fischer, 26, of Holly Hill, was sentenced on March 1 to six months of home confinement and two years of probation.
William Fischer, 48, of Harleyville, was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine for a misdemeanor wildlife trafficking violation.
All three participated in or facilitated Baker’s efforts.
Matthew Harrison Kail, 30, of Pomona Park, Florida, and William Thomas Gangemi, 26, of Freehold, New Jersey, have both pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing.
Evidence presented previously established that Baker was the ringleader of an international syndicate of wildlife smugglers exchanging turtles protected by international agreements back and forth between the United States and China, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The activity took place from January through June 2016. Baker obtained protected turtles from Hong Kong to distribute in the United States, and he shipped protected turtles from the United States to Asia.
The transactions were set up using the Facebook text messaging feature. Shipments were made internationally through the U.S. Postal Service. Several packages were intercepted entering the United States at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the S.C. Department of Natural Resources investigated the case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Winston David Holliday Jr. of the Columbia office is prosecuting the case.