The owner of a Philadelphia African art store was arrested Tuesday on federal charges of smuggling African elephant ivory, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Victor Gordon, 68, was arrested after an investigation found that he was paying someone to buy raw elephant ivory in Africa and then having it carved and stained to make the ivory appear old, federal prosecutors say.
Gordon planned and financed for the doctored ivory to be illegally brought through John F. Kennedy International Airport, authorities say. Federal agents seized about one ton of the elephant ivory. It was the largest ivory seizure in the U.S., federal prosecutors say.
“The amount of the elephant ivory allegedly plundered in this case is staggering and highlights the seriousness of the charged crimes,” U.S. Attorney Loretta E. Lynch said in a statement. “We all have a responsibility to protect endangered species, both for their sake and for the sake of our own future generations.”
Gordon's lawyer Daniel Alva told NBC Philadelphia that his client "maintains his innocence."
"He is a legitimate dealer in African art," Alva said. "He never commissioned the carvings at any time but merely bought what he believed to have been art that pre-dated the embargo, thus was legal."
Population of the African elephant dropped drastically in the 1970s and 80s because of global demand of ivory, and the elephant has since been placed on listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service authorities, black market ivory trade jeopardizes the survival of African elephants and undermines decades of conservation efforts.
Gordon faces 10 felony counts of conspiracy, smuggling and other charges. If convicted, Gordon could face 20 years in prison.
It is not yet clear where Gordon ran his shop in Philadelphia.