The men behind a luxury art and jewelry store in La Jolla have been convicted of illegal ivory trafficking and will now pay the largest fines ever imposed for it in state history.
Carlton Gallery, located in the popular Prospect Street shopping area, will pay a combined total of $210,000 after more than 300 pieces of illegal elephant and hippopotamus ivory were found at its store and warehouse.
The ivory seizure, valued at $1.3 million, was the largest of its kind in the history of California since it was banned in July 2016, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
"If you try to make a buck from the brutal slaughter of endangered species, you will be prosecuted and held accountable for your crimes," said San Diego City Attorney Mara W. Elliott.
The store’s owner, Victor Cohen, and salesperson, Sheldon Kupersmith, both pleaded guilty to the illegal ivory operation.
Cohen was convicted of 11 counts of trafficking, and Kupersmith was convicted of eight counts.
Carlton Gallery and Cohen were both fined $75,000, and Kupersmith was fined $60,000, according to the city attorney.
The two men are also required to complete 200 hours of court-ordered service at the San Diego Zoo over the next year.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife began investigating Carlton Gallery when a trafficking unit noticed two art-deco sculptures that appeared to be ivory on display in the store’s front window.
On May 1, 2018, wildlife officers went undercover to buy an ivory sculpture from the gallery, according to the city attorney.
Kupersmith then offered to sell the officers three more pieces containing ivory.
The officers with the Department of Fish and Wildlife's Trafficking Unit then obtained a search warrant and seized 146 items with ivory from the La Jolla store.
Cohen took officials to a nearby warehouse where an additional 192 pieces of ivory were confiscated.
The two men were placed on three years of probation. If Cohen or Kupersmith violates the terms of their probation, they will be brought into custody for a year and pay an additional $100,000 fine.
Illegal ivory comes from the tusk of a species of elephant or the teeth of hippopotami and has led to animal trafficking and poaching, according to wildlife animal experts with San Diego Zoo Global.
Anyone with information about environmental violations can contact the city attorney’s Nuisance Abatement Unit at (619) 533-5655.