LOS ANGELES – City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office’s Environmental Justice Unit has filed three criminal cases against alleged online and storefront sellers of all ivory merchandise following a collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. The prosecutions are the first in California under a new law prohibiting any sale of ivory products in California.
"The ivory trade is barbaric. It jeopardizes many animals that are at risk or on the verge of extinction," said Feuer. "My office will vigorously prosecute cases alleging ivory sales, because we must protect these rare animals, who are killed so cruelly for the sake of greed."
"AB 96 banned the ivory trade, but prohibition is meaningless without investigation and enforcement," said State Senator Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). "Thanks to the Department of Fish and Wildlife and City Attorney Feuer and his team, criminals who are perpetuating the horrific slaughter of elephants, narwhals and other animals are now being prosecuted and a message is being sent to others who would profit from the heartless killing of these creatures: You will be brought to justice."
"These cases exemplify the mission of our Wildlife Trafficking Unit and demonstrate that black market trafficking of wildlife in California will not be tolerated. We stand beside our City Attorney partners to take these poachers and traffickers out of business," said, David Bess, Fish and Wildlife, Chief of Law Enforcement
"Undercover investigations revealed that, for years, legal markets in California provided cover for the illegal ivory market," said Zak Smith, Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) Wildlife Trade Initiative. "Thanks to California's new law, we can crack down on this illicit activity - which is contributing to the death of thousands of elephants. Today’s action should send a strong message to poachers and the cartels behind them that California is closed for business when it comes to ivory."
"The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) applauds the Los Angeles City Attorney’s office and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for enforcing AB 96 and bringing ivory traffickers to justice. This conviction is a testament that states can play an integral role in protecting elephants by clamping down on ivory trafficking and complementing federal and international enforcement efforts," said Jennifer Fearing, HSUS' legislative advocate in Sacramento. "California’s humane leadership boosts the growing momentum to outlaw the ivory trade worldwide." HSUS sponsored Assembly Bill 96.
In July 2016, AB96 (Atkins) went into law prohibiting the purchase or sale of products containing ivory, derived from animals including the elephant tusks, hippopotamus teeth, mammoth tusks, mastodon tusks, walrus tusks, warthog tusks, whale tusks, or narwhal and rhinoceros horns. Each of the alleged ivory violations carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and $40,000 in penalties.
Antonio’s Bella Casa and its owner Anthony James Buccola, were each charged with two criminal counts for the possession and sale of ivory products. In January Fish and Wildlife received information that Bella Casa, an antique store located on La Cienega Boulevard, was allegedly offering for sale in its showroom ivory tusks measuring approximately 79 inches from a narwhal, a medium sized whale found in the waters outside Canada and Greenland. The tusks were being sold for approximately $35,000 each. Narwhals are rare mammals considered “near threatened” with a total worldwide population of only 50,000 with many countries adopting strict quotas or bans on importation of tusks.
Oleg N. Chakov, was charged with two criminal counts for the illegal sale of ivory products following an undercover investigation by Fish and Wildlife in April into ivory figurines being offered for sale online over craigslist. Officers arranged a buy with the defendant at a public library on Sunset Boulevard, where he allegedly was found in possession of nine small ivory sculptures worth more than $3,000.
Antiquarian Traders, Inc. and its owner Mark Slotkin, were each charged with seven criminal counts, including possession and offering for sale ivory products as well as possession of various species of mounted birds and a mountain lion, also illegal for sale in California. A report commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council on elephant ivory trafficking in California tipped off the Department of Fish and Wildlife that illegal ivory products were being sold in Beverly Hills and other shops in Los Angeles. In February undercover officers were directed by the store employees to a larger 50,000 square foot warehouse used by the business to house similar goods. A subsequent search warrant allegedly discovered 10 ivory art deco pieces and mounted animals being offered for prices ranging from $4,500 to $30,000.
All cases are scheduled for arraignment on October 17, 2017 in Department 47 of the Los Angeles County Superior Court.
All ivory pieces identified in the cases by Fish and Wildlife officers were confiscated and taken into custody by the department.
Deputy City Attorneys Ella Fernandez and Nick Karno both with Feuer’s Environmental Justice Unit, are prosecuting the cases.