SAN DIEGO – It’s a case that garnered the largest fines ever imposed in an ivory trafficking case in California. On February 5, 2019, the San Diego City Attorney’s office announced that the Carlton Gallery in La Jolla, its owner, and an employee will pay combined fines of $210,000 after pleading guilty to trafficking ivory in defiance of California law.
Carlton Gallery’s owner, Victor Hyman Cohen, was convicted on 11 counts, and a salesperson, Sheldon Miles Kupersmith, was convicted on eight counts. The Gallery and Cohen were each fined $75,000, and Kupersmith was fined $60,000. Cohen and Kupersmith were also placed on three years of probation, violation of which will result in an automatic 364 days in custody and an additional $100,000 fine per defendant. The defendants will also be required to complete 200 hours of court-ordered work service at the San Diego Zoo within the year.
“We must protect the endangered species on our planet and investigate and prosecute those who traffic and profit from selling ivory,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens are most familiar with the laws protecting wildlife and did an excellent job in this investigation.”
“I hope this conviction sends a clear message to anyone considering engaging in the ivory black market, as a buyer or a seller,” City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said. “If you try to make a buck from the brutal slaughter of endangered species, you will be prosecuted and held accountable for your crimes.”
The convictions resulted from the largest seizure of ivory products by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) since a state law banning their sale took effect in 2016. CDFW officers seized from the Prospect Street gallery and its warehouse more than 300 pieces of ivory and items containing ivory with an estimated value of $1.3 million.
The investigation into Carlton Gallery began when wildlife officers from CDFW’s Trafficking Unit saw two art-deco sculptures that appeared to be ivory in the gallery’s Prospect Street display window. The wardens returned later and saw additional items that appeared to contain ivory. In a sting operation conducted on May 1, 2018, undercover wildlife officers purchased an ivory sculpture from salesperson Sheldon Miles Kupersmith, who offered to sell the officers three other sculptures containing ivory. Wildlife officers obtained and executed a search warrant later that day and seized 146 items containing ivory from the gallery. The Gallery’s owner then led investigators to a warehouse nearby where officers seized 192 additional pieces of ivory. Most of the items contained ivory from elephants, while some contained ivory from the teeth of hippopotami.
A law banning the sale of nearly all ivory in the state of California took effect on July 1, 2016. The ban encompasses the teeth and tusks of elephant, hippopotamus, mammoth, mastodon, walrus, warthog, whale and narwhal, as well as rhinoceros horn, regardless of whether it is raw, worked, or powdered, or from a store or a private collection. Under the law, advertising the sale of any items containing ivory is also prohibited.
Two types of ivory products are exempted from the ban: musical instrument that are made of less than 20 percent ivory and were manufactured no later than 1975, and antiques that are made of less than 5 percent ivory and are more than 100 years old. Neither exception applies to the items seized from the Carlton Gallery.