Daily Press (Sunday)

South Carolina man faces new set of turtle-related troubles


MACON, Ga. — A South Carolina man previously convicted of smuggling protected turtles between the United States and Hong Kong faces new allegation­s of turtle-related crimes in Georgia.

Bibb County sheriff’s deputies arrested and jailed

Steven Verren Baker of Holly Hill, South Carolina, on Tuesday and charged him with 15 felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals.

No lawyer was listed in Georgia court records for Baker, who remained jailed Friday with bail set at $8,250.

Deputies were responding to a call about an abandoned dog in Macon when they noticed turtles in a basin nestled in a pile of trash, WMAZ-TV reports. They wrote that a woman identified as Baker’s mother told deputies that Baker, 43, had left the turtles with her about two months ago. The mother agreed to hand the turtles over to deputies, saying she had been unable to get her son to retrieve them.

A veterinari­an said the turtles were suffering from long-term malnutriti­on, bacterial and fungal infections, sepsis and shell deformitie­s.

The turtles included 11 rare albino red-eared sliders, one brown red-eared slider and two pink-bellied side necks. There was also a Chinese golden thread turtle, which is considered endangered in the wild, but is legal to breed in captivity.

Baker pleaded guilty in 2018 to one count of conspiracy to smuggle wildlife in federal court in South Carolina after postal inspectors at John F. Kennedy Internatio­nal

Airport in New York found 46 turtles concealed in four packages in early 2016.

Baker served more than two years in federal prison, followed by two years of supervised release. He also was ordered to forfeit $263,225, which is what officials said the turtles were worth.

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