San Diego Jeweler Pleads Guilty to Violating Ivory Ban

The owner and a salesperson at a La Jolla, Calif., jewelry store have pleaded guilty to selling ivory in violation of state law, according to a news release from the San Diego City Attorney.

On Feb. 5, Carlton Gallery owner Victor Cohen pleaded guilty to 11 misdemeanor counts of violating the state’s 2016 ivory ban, and salesperson Sheldon Kupersmith pleaded guilty to eight counts, the release said. Following the pleas, the store and owner were each fined $75,000, while the salesperson was fined $60,000. The total of $210,000 in fines is the largest ever for selling ivory in California, the release said.

The two men received three years of probation and must complete 200 hours of court-ordered work at the San Diego Zoo within a year.

According to the news release, the investigation into Carlton Gallery began in December 2017, when wildlife officers from the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s traffic unit spotted two Art Deco sculptures that appeared to be ivory displayed in the gallery’s window.

In a sting the following May, undercover officers said they purchased an ivory sculpture at the store, and the salesperson allegedly offered to sell the officers three other ivory sculptures. At the owner’s warehouse, officers seized another 192 additional pieces of ivory, with an estimated value of $1.3 million.

A law banning the sale of nearly all ivory in the state of California was passed on July 1, 2016. In addition, in 2014, the U.S. Department of the Interior announced measures that effectively banned any commercial trade of elephant ivory in the United States.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service guidelines for handling preexisting ivory products can be seen here. The Jewelers Vigilance’s Committee guidance on wildlife products, which is from 2013 and predates some of the recent developments, can be seen here.

At press time, Carlton Gallery had not responded to a request for comment from JCK.

(Image of elephant ivory courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

JCK News Director