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Philadelphia art store owner charged with smuggling African ivory

By the CNN Wire Staff
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Despite laws against the sale of ivory, demand remains high
  • One ton of ivory was seized from the African art store in Philadelphia
  • Gordon faces 20 years in prison if convicted

(CNN) -- The owner of a Philadelphia art store was arrested Tuesday and charged with smuggling and conspiracy for illegally importing and selling African elephant ivory, according to the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York.

Federal agents seized approximately 1 ton of ivory from Victor Gordon's African art store -- one of the largest government seizures of ivory on record.

Gordon, 68, is also allegedly in violation of the Lacey Act, which aims to fight against the trafficking of wildlife, fish and plants that have been obtained illegally, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.

Gordon allegedly paid a co-conspirator to travel to Africa to buy raw elephant ivory, according to the 10-count felony indictment against him. He provided his co-conspirators with pictures of ivory carvings and asked that the ivory be designed by African carvers according to his designs, court documents said. Gordon also asked that the ivory be dyed to give it an antique, older look.

He illegally imported the ivory through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, a statement from the U.S. attorney said.

Ivory usually comes from the tusks of elephants. A high demand for ivory led to a staggering decline in the African elephant population in the 1970s and 1980s, but the killing of elephants for their tusks remains a serious problem, even after laws and international treaties were put in place to prohibit the practice. The U.S. Endangered Species Act names the African elephant as a threatened species.

"The amount of the elephant ivory allegedly plundered in this case is staggering and highlights the seriousness of the charged crimes," said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch. "We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations."

Poaching and illegally selling ivory is serious issue in West and Central Africa, where the ivory in the Gordon case came from, the U.S. attorney's statement said.

If he is convicted of the charges against him, Gordon could face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

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