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California

Documents tick off hundreds of illegal ivory pieces seized at La Jolla gallery

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The owner and a salesman at Carlton Gallery in La Jolla are accused of selling ivory, a violation of California law. In the meantime, the gallery remains open for business. (Corey Levitan)

A sculpture of a female dancer. One of Romeo and Juliet. A 32-piece chess set, rings and exquisitely carved ornaments from Japan. That’s just a partial list of items containing ivory that state investigators took out of the Carlton Gallery in La Jolla on May 1, according to search warrant documents filed in San Diego Superior Court.

Officials say the haul confirms what investigators had suspected: The gallery was engaging in the illegal sale of ivory. More than six months later — on Nov. 28 — the San Diego City Attorney’s Office filed charges against gallery owner Victor Hyman Cohen and salesman Sheldon Kupersmith, accusing them of violating a state law banning the illegal trafficking of ivory passed in 2016.

The search warrant and accompanying affidavit by Officer Kaitlin Blagg with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife not only itemize the haul taken from the gallery but also shed a bit of light on the probe. The documents say the supervisor of the department’s wildlife trafficking unit contacted Blagg in December 2017 — months before the raid — and asked her to check into the gallery because the supervisor believed it might be selling ivory.

On Dec. 15, Blagg and a second agent went to the gallery on Prospect Street. They saw many pieces of art in the window that appeared to contain ivory and more inside the store. When they were inside, a salesman took them to a room in the back of the gallery closed off to the public that also contained art pieces apparently containing ivory.

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Eventually, authorities recovered 338 pieces from the gallery and a nearby warehouse valued at $1.3 million. They also recovered a ledger book and 98 pages of ivory sales invoices, according to the warrant.

Both Cohen and Kupersmith are scheduled to appear for an arraignment on numerous charges, all misdemeanors, on Jan.

Poaching of elephants for ivory has been devastating to their population, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

Moran writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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greg.moran@sduniontribune.com


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