Ivory forfeited, community service ordered for local man accused of illegal sales

Carved ivory tusk
Carved ivory tusk confiscated from a Carmel Valley home
(Courtesy San Diego City Attorney’s Office)

Items seized from Carmel Valley home include carved tusks, chess sets and a room divider made with ivory panels


A Carmel Valley man accused of selling ivory carvings that could have commanded $100,000 on the black market was ordered by a judge to forfeit his entire collection, the San Diego City Attorney’s Office said Thursday, Jan. 27.

The confiscated cache includes carved tusks, chess sets, a room divider made with ivory panels, and several sculptures and carvings.

In addition to the forfeiture, the 54-year-old defendant was given a chance to perform 100 hours of community service in exchange for the dismissal of several misdemeanor charges, including possession and sales of ivory.

San Diego Superior Court Judge Theodore Weathers on Wednesday, Jan. 26, granted the defendant what is known as “diversion,” which allows someone facing misdemeanors to have their case to be dismissed with no conviction on their record, so long as they follow court-ordered conditions such as community service.

Ivory sculptures confiscated from a Carmel Valley home
Ivory sculptures confiscated from a Carmel Valley home
(Courtesy San Diego City Attorney’s Office)

The grant of diversion came over the objection of the prosecutor, who argued in court documents that the defendant knew his actions were illegal. The prosecutor also noted the threat ivory poaching evinces to wildlife around the world.

The defendant was initially charged with 15 misdemeanors, and faced up to eight years in prison and fines that potentially could have reached between $40,000 and $320,000, the City Attorney’s Office said in a news release.

Defense attorney Ernest Lee said Thursday, Jan. 27, that his client is “a good guy” with no criminal record. The case, Lee said, was “almost a textbook case of what diversion is for.”

Diversion is for “people who have a good record and are law-abiding people,” he said to the Union-Tribune, adding that it’s for people who “made a mistake, more than anything else.”

The investigation started after California Fish & Wildlife wardens came across the ivory pieces for sale online. One of them met with the defendant twice while posing undercover as a buyer.

At the man’s Carmel Valley home in early 2020, he offered to sell the undercover warden several ivory pieces in his garage. He also repeatedly texted the warden later, offering more items for sale, according to a court document laying out the facts of the case.

On a return visit later that year, he offered the warden several more pieces for sale. At that point, the warden signaled a waiting team, which descended on the home and executed a search warrant.

ivory sculptures known as "netsuke"
Confiscated ivory sculptures known as “netsuke” taken from a Carmel Valley home
(Courtesy San Diego City Attorney’s Office)

The search turned up more than 280 pieces of ivory, and a small photo studio that agents suspected the man used to photograph the items for sale, court documents state.

The City Attorney’s Office said most of the man’s ivory items were made of elephant tusks, although some may have come from walrus or hippopotamus — also illegal.

Some of the seized ivory will be used to develop the state Fish & Wildlife ivory DNA database. Forensic scientists are developing a way to use ivory to identify the animal it came from, and also teach ivory identification to scientists across the country.

The City Attorney’s Office said the rest of the confiscated ivory will be destroyed.

“The illegal and immoral ivory trade only serves to encourage the senseless slaughter of elephants and other endangered species,” City Attorney Mara Elliott said in a statement.