A South Carolina man with a history of turtle smuggling finds himself in hot water once again, this time in Georgia.
Steven Verren Baker, who was previously convicted of smuggling protected turtles between the United States and Hong Kong, is now facing a fresh set of allegations related to turtle-related crimes.
The shocking discovery of mistreated turtles in his possession led to his arrest and subsequent charges of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Bibb County sheriff’s deputies in Georgia arrested and jailed Steven Verren Baker on Tuesday, charging him with 15 felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.
These charges come after deputies responded to a call about an abandoned dog in Macon but stumbled upon an entirely different and disturbing situation.
Nestled in a pile of trash, deputies discovered a basin containing a collection of turtles, all in dire need of care.
According to an incident report, a woman identified as Baker’s mother confirmed that her son had left the turtles with her approximately two months prior. She expressed her inability to convince him to retrieve the animals, eventually agreeing to hand them over to deputies.
The turtles were in a pitiable state, suffering from long-term malnutrition, bacterial and fungal infections, sepsis, and shell deformities. Among the turtles, there were 11 rare albino red-eared sliders, one brown red-eared slider, and two pink-bellied side necks.
Additionally, a Chinese golden thread turtle, considered endangered in the wild but legal to breed in captivity, was also found among the mistreated creatures.
Steven Verren Baker’s recent arrest is not his first encounter with the law. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to smuggle wildlife in federal court in South Carolina.
This conviction came after postal inspectors at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York discovered 46 turtles concealed among noodles and candy in four packages in early 2016. The turtles were shockingly placed in socks and shipped through the mail in boxes labeled as “snacks.”
Baker’s involvement in a turtle smuggling operation did not go unnoticed. Five other individuals were convicted in the same South Carolina court case, with Baker labeled as the ringleader.
Federal officials revealed that he was engaged in both sending turtles from the United States to Hong Kong and receiving turtles from Hong Kong. This was done illegally, as trading in such protected species without the required permits violates international treaties, such as the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.
For his involvement in the turtle smuggling ring, Baker was sentenced to more than two years in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release that concluded in April 2022. Additionally, he was ordered to forfeit $263,225, reflecting the estimated value of the turtles he had been trading.
Sign this petition to protect turtles!
What you can do
Support ‘Fighting for Wildlife’ by donating as little as $1 – It only takes a minute. Thank you.
Fighting for Wildlife supports approved wildlife conservation organizations, which spend at least 80 percent of the money they raise on actual fieldwork, rather than administration and fundraising. When making a donation you can designate for which type of initiative it should be used – wildlife, oceans, forests or climate.
This article by Trinity Sparke was first published by One Green Planet on 18 October 2023. Image Credit :ChristianChan/Shutterstock.