About 150 armed federal agents descended on a handful of antique stores catering to tourists in San Francisco's Union Square and Fisherman's Wharf areas Thursday, arresting undocumented workers and searching for paperwork related to allegations of illegal ivory importation and other crimes.
In a series of daylight raids beginning about 11 a.m., jacketed agents served warrants on eight antique stores and two warehouses. The targeted shops, including King's Fine Arts and Antiques and Lloyd's Fine Art and Jewelry, sell artwork, furniture and imported products.
Agents ejected customers and detained salespeople as they seized papers and merchandise, said officials with the Internal Revenue Service, one of four federal agencies involved. Cash and permits for shipping "carved hippopotamus ivory" were among the items the IRS listed as targets in the search. Immigration, Fish and Wildlife Service and FBI agents also took part in the operation.
IRS spokesman Mark Lessler emphasized that -- although 29 undocumented workers from various countries were taken into custody -- there have been no indictments in the case, and no one has been charged. But, he said, the raids netted "a large amount of records."
Citing an ongoing investigation, federal officials declined to specify in detail what alleged crimes they are investigating. But Roger Wirth, IRS criminal investigation special agent in charge of Northern California, said that his agency was involved to check into possible money laundering and mail fraud. Joan Jewett, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said her agency sought records of possible ivory sales. Ivory products are controlled, and their legal import and sale requires proper documentation, she said.
Edwin K. Prather, attorney for King's, Lloyd's and three other raided stores, said all are "absolutely legitimate businesses which will be open for business tomorrow."