Holly Hill man arrested out of state, faces 15 felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals

Holly Hill, South Carolina – In a disturbing revelation of wildlife crime, Steven Verren Baker, a 43-year-old man from Holly Hill, South Carolina, known for previous convictions related to turtle smuggling, is once again in custody facing new allegations. This time, the accusations stem from severe animal cruelty in Georgia, marking another dark chapter in his history with illegal wildlife trade.

Bibb County sheriff’s deputies arrested Baker on Tuesday, charging him with 15 felony counts of aggravated cruelty to animals, a stark reminder of the ongoing battle against wildlife mistreatment. As of writing of this article, Baker remains behind bars with bail set at $8,250. Complications surrounding his representation have arisen, given that his South Carolina lawyer has passed away, and no other counsel is listed in the Georgia court records.

The latest incident unraveled unexpectedly when deputies, initially responding to a report of an abandoned dog in Macon, discovered several turtles in dire conditions. These creatures were cramped in a basin amidst trash, highlighting a scene of neglect. According to the deputies’ report, the turtles were left in the care of Baker’s mother approximately two months ago. Struggling with the situation, she consented to surrender the turtles, citing her unsuccessful attempts to have Baker reclaim them.

Upon examination, a veterinarian determined the turtles were enduring the effects of prolonged malnutrition, bacterial and fungal infections, sepsis, and shell deformities. The group of rescued turtles included 11 rare albino red-eared sliders, one brown red-eared slider, two pink-bellied side necks, and an endangered Chinese golden thread turtle, a species that, while legal to breed in captivity, exemplifies the exotic wildlife trade’s devastating impact.

Baker’s troubled past with wildlife smuggling includes a 2018 guilty plea for conspiring to smuggle wildlife. This conviction followed the discovery of 46 turtles hidden in snack boxes at John F. Kennedy International Airport back in 2016. Identified as the ringleader among six men involved in the illegal trade, Baker has a history of exploiting loopholes in wildlife protection laws, contributing to the endangerment of vulnerable species.

After serving more than two years in federal prison and two years of supervised release that concluded in April 2022, these fresh allegations suggest a pattern of recidivism. Baker was also mandated to forfeit $263,225 previously, equivalent to the determined value of the turtles he exploited, underscoring the lucrative nature of this illicit trade.

Monica Doyle


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