Ivory Sellers Face Criminal Charges Under New California Law

LOS ANGELES (CN) – California filed criminal charges Wednesday against three sellers of ivory merchandise – a first under a new state law barring the sale of such products, according to prosecutors.

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced the complaints at a morning press conference. His office’s Environmental Justice Unit joined the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in taking action against the owner of an antique store on La Cienega Boulevard, a seller on Craigslist, and a trader who sold ivory in Beverly Hills and other LA locations.

“The ivory trade is barbaric,” Feuer said in a statement. “It jeopardizes many animals that are at risk or on the verge of extinction. 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.”

The new law, Assembly Bill 96, bans the importation or sale of ivory and rhinoceros horn. AB 96 took effect in July 2016 and closes a loophole that shielded sellers of ivory purchased before 1977.

Approved by Gov. Jerry Brown in October 2015, the amended law bars the purchase or sale of ivory products that come from hippopotamus teeth, the tusks of elephants, mammoths, mastodons, narwhals, walruses, warthogs and whales, and rhinoceros horns.

Poaching presents a grave threat to the existence of elephants, rhinos and other animals facing extinction. There is an international trade for ivory centered in Africa, and merchandise is created in East Asia and China. The United States is one of the world’s largest consumers of ivory, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Zak Smith, director of the council’s Wildlife Trade Initiative, said legal markets in California had helped shield the illegal ivory trade.

“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,” Smith said.

The three misdemeanor complaints involve violations that a maximum penalty of up to one year in prison and a $40,000 penalty for each violation if convicted.

Prosecutors accuse defendant Anthony Buccola, 51, and his antique store Antonio’s Bella Casa of offering for sale 79-inch narwhal ivory tusks at $35,000 each. The narwhal is a medium sized whale found in the oceans off Canada and Greenland. There are only 50,000 of the rare mammal left, and countries have enacted bans prohibiting the importation of the tusks, the City Attorney’s Office said in a statement.

Prosecutors also charge Oleg Chakov, 47, with the sale of ivory products on Craigslist. An undercover Fish and Wildlife officer met Chakov at a public library on Sunset Boulevard, where he was found in possession of nine ivory sculptures with a value of $3,000, the city said.

The third complaint is against 76-year-old Mark Slotkin of Antiquarian Traders, who is accused of selling ivory productions in Beverly Hills and in stores in Los Angeles.

Undercover Fish and Wildlife officers discovered a 50,000 square-foot warehouse for the goods after acting on a report commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council on elephant ivory trafficking and tips from store employees. They found 10 ivory art deco pieces at the warehouse and mounted animals valued between $4,500 and $30,000, according to the statement.

In a phone interview, Slotkin said the confiscated art deco merchandise had been in his inventory for 25 years, that he had been unaware of the new law, and that the pieces only contained small amounts of ivory.

“I guess I just got to fight it,” Slotkin said.

Buccola did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Courthouse News could not locate contact information for Chakov.

The defendants are expected to be arraigned in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Oct. 17.

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