A Philadelphia African art-store owner was arrested this morning by federal agents and charged with the illegal importation and sale of African elephant ivory.
Federal agents seized approximately one ton of ivory, one of the largest such seizures on record, official said.
Victor Gordon, 68, was arraigned in federal magistrate court in Brooklyn earlier today and pleaded not guilty. He was released on $1 million bond secured by two properties he owns.
Authorities said Gordon paid an unidentified co-conspirator thousands of dollars to travel to Africa to purchase raw elephant ivory and have it carved to his specifications.
He allegedly provided the co-conspirator with photographs and other depictions of ivory carvings to serve as templates for ivory carvers in Africa and directed the co-conspirator to stain or dye the ivory so the specimens would appear old.
Gordon then planned and financed the illegal importation of the ivory from Africa to the U.S. through New York's JFK International Airport and sold the carvings to customers at his Philadelphia store on North 3rd Street in Old City.
Authorities said the alleged illegal smuggling took place from May 2006 to April 2009.
Altogether, nearly 460 ivory tusks and carvings were seized in the Philadelphia area in 2009 and 2010, the indictment said.
Illegal trade in African elephant ivory is a major threat to elephant populations in Africa, particularly in the hardest hit poaching regions of West and Central Africa, where the ivory in this investigation originated. African elephants are protected under an international treaty that dates back to 1975 to prevent the species from becoming endangered or extinct due to international trade. The African elephant also is listed as a threatened species under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
"The amount of elephant ivory allegedly plundered in this case is staggering and highlights the seriousness of the charged crimes,' said Loretta E. Lynch, the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, adding everybody has a responsibility to protect endangered species. The U.S. Attorney's office here assisted in the case. Authorities said the ongoing investigation into the illegal smuggling of elephant ivory had already resulted in the convictions of eight individuals.
The store's name is Victor Gordon Enterprises, at 31 N. 3rd Street in Old City. It was closed this afternoon, with the lights off and the pull-down security gate lowered/locked in place.
In the store's windows are various African sculptures and masks. Also in the windows, 2 signs that say "The Most Unusual Store in Philadelphia"
*Mark Jones, a Philadelphia Parking Authority employee who tickets the area around Gordon's store, said he's ticketed some suspicious cars that were illegally parked outside the shop over the past 3-4 years. "They're always out of state plates, and they come in cars, not delivery vans or trucks. They make the deliveries around the back of the store, instead of through the front door." Legitimate delivery services would know to park legally, especially after receiving a ticket the first time, he added.
"He's an odd bird, just a little peculiar," said Vince Horne, 35, who's works in Strands Hair Salon next door for 11 years. He walks up and down the street often, Horne said, but most people try to avoid conversation with him