The first prosecutions in California under a new law prohibiting the sale of ivory products were filed Wednesday by Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer.
Three men have been charged with the illegal sale of ivory products in separate incidents, and each of the alleged violations carries a maximum penalty of up to one year in jail and $40,000 in fines.
"The ivory trade is barbaric. It jeopardizes many animals that are at risk or on the verge of extinction," Feuer said. "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."
Feuer said the cases were being prosecuted by his office's Environmental Justice Unit following a collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Assembly Bill 96 went into law in July 2016 and prohibits the purchase or sale of products containing ivory from animals including elephant tusks, warthog tusks, whale tusks and others.
"AB 96 banned the ivory trade, but prohibition is meaningless without investigation and enforcement," said state Sen. Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), who authored the bill. "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."
The charges were brought against Antonio's Bella Casa and its owner Anthony James Buccola, Antiquarian Traders Inc. and its owner Mark Slotkin, and Oleg N. Chakov.
According to Feuer, Antonio's Bella Casa and Buccola are both facing two criminal counts for the possession and sale of ivory products at Antonio's Bella Casa at 868 N. La Cienega Blvd., which allegedly was offering for sale in its showroom ivory tusks from a narwhal whale for approximately $35,000 each.
Chakov was charged with two criminal counts for the alleged illegal sale of ivory figurines online, was arrested after allegedly meeting with undercover Fish and Wildlife agents at a public library and allegedly was found in possession of nine small ivory sculptures worth more than $3,000.
Slotkin and Antiquarian Traders Inc. at 303 S. Robertson Blvd. were each charged with seven criminal counts, including possession and offering for sale ivory products. In February, undercover officers reported finding at the store's warehouse 10 ivory pieces and mounted animals being offered for sale ranging in price from $4,500 to $30,000.
"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, chief of law enforcement for Fish and Wildlife.
According to a recent report commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council, up to 90 percent of the ivory for sale in Los Angeles and approximately 80 percent in San Francisco is likely illegal under California law.
"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 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."