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Spotted Turtle (Image: Fish & Wildlife Service)The owners of two different South Carolina reptile businesses will not receive any additional jail time for illegally selling endangered turtles.

Prosecutors announced Wednesday that Steven Baker, 35, of Holly Hill, and Ray Roberson, 68, of Cottageville, were sentenced in Charleston for the illegal selling of Spotted Turtles.

The federal government recognizes the southeastern U.S. as a “Turtle Priority Area” for conservation due to its rich turtle biodiversity. However, the region’s turtle population is vulnerable due to commercial over-exploitation of turtles for consumption, high nest mortality, and delayed maturity. The Spotted Turtle has suffered from these effects so much so that it was recently listed for protection under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

South Carolina state law makes it unlawful for any person to possess, sell or ship any Spotted Turtle without a state permit.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services agents said they learned that Baker was engaged in the unlawful sale and possession of turtles. Agents said Baker operated Southeastern Reptile Locators from his home in Holly Hill, but did not hold a permit to possess Spotted Turtles. The agents then conducted an undercover investigation of Baker for unlawfully possessing and selling turtles.

On Aug. 1 a search warrant was executed at Baker’s home. In addition to turtle-related evidence, wildlife agents found firearms and ammunition in Baker’s home. Baker was a convicted felon and was not allowed to possess those items.

In Roberson’s case, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services agents learned that he was engaged in the unlawful sale and possession of turtles. The agents determined that Roberson’s business, Apostle Reptiles, was issued a permit in 2008 to possess Spotted Turtles for personal use as pets or for research and/or educational purposes. Roberson’s permit expired in 2013.

At Repticon Reptile Exposition in Columbia, Roberson told an undercover Fish and Wildlife agent that he was in possession of more than 100 Spotted Turtles for sale. The agent then conducted an undercover investigation of Roberson for unlawfully possessing and selling turtles after his permit had expired.

Baker was sentenced on Tuesday to probation for 3 years for the Wildlife Trafficking offense. He was also sentenced an additional 3 years for possession of weapons and ammunition by a convicted felon. Roberson was sentenced on Aug. 13 to time served for wildlife trafficking.

Source: www.southcarolinaradionetwork.com

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