Columbia, South Carolina ---- United States Attorney Sherri A. Lydon announced today that William Thomas Gangemi, age 26, of Freehold, New Jersey, pled guilty in federal court to Conspiracy to Smuggle Wildlife. Senior United States District Judge Joseph F. Anderson, Jr., accepted the plea and will sentence him at a later date.
Evidence presented at the hearing established that Gangemi participated in a syndicate of wildlife smugglers exchanging turtles protected by international agreements back and forth between the United States and China. The conspiracy was led by Steven Baker, age 38, of Holly Hill, who pled guilty in June 2018. Three other men, Joseph Logan Brooks, age 29, formerly of Holly Hill; Matthew Tyler Fischer, age 25, of Holly Hill; and Matthew Harrison Kail, age 30, of Pomona Park, Florida, pled guilty to the same Conspiracy in September 2018. William Fischer, age 48, of Harleyville, pled guilty to a misdemeanor Wildlife Trafficking charge the same day.
The activity took place from January through June 2016. Baker obtained protected turtles from Hong Kong to distribute here in the United States, and he shipped protected turtles from the United States to Asia. Gangemi collected turtles that he provided to Baker, shipped turtles domestically, and exchanged text messages with Baker regarding various shipments.
The transactions were set up using the Facebook text messaging feature. Shipments were made internationally through the United States Postal Service. Several packages were intercepted entering the United States at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The maximum penalty faced by Gangemi is five years in federal prison.
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources investigated the case. Assistant United States Attorney Winston David Holliday, Jr., of the Columbia office is prosecuting the case.