$1.3 million in illegal ivory seized from San Diego gallery

A San Diego gallery owner and his employee were arrested for allegedly trafficking in ivory after a sting operation in which authorities say they seized more than 300 pieces worth $1.3 million.

City Attorney Mara W. Elliott said the Carlton Gallery in San Diego's tony La Jolla neighborhood was targeted after state Department of Fish and Wildlife officers saw statues that appeared to be made of ivory in one of the gallery's display windows.

After seeing similar items in the gallery over the next few months, Elliott said the officers entered the store last May and bought an ivory statue. When a salesman offered to sell them more, they returned with a search warrant.

Investigators said they found 146 items in the gallery before its owner, Victor Hyman Cohen, led them to a warehouse where they seized another 192.

Most of the ivory came from elephants, Elliott said, and some from hippopotamus teeth.

"Ivory trafficking is an illegal and reprehensible business that encourages the senseless slaughter of elephants and other endangered species," she said in a statement. "I hope this prosecution sends a strong message to anyone who sells or is thinking about selling ivory on the black market in San Diego: We will find you and prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law."

A law adopted in 2016 bans the sale of almost all ivory in California.

Cohen and Sheldon Miles Kuppersmith, the salesman authorities say sold the officers the initial piece, were charged with misdemeanors. They could face up to a year in jail and fines of $40,000 if convicted.

Neither Cohen nor Kuppersmith could be reached for comment.

A man who answered the phone at the gallery Friday said that Cohen was not there before quickly hanging up. A phone number for Kuppersmith was disconnected.