An Old City art store owner is free on $1 million bail after being charged by federal authorities yesterday with illegally importing and selling massive amounts of elephant ivory.
Authorities seized one ton of ivory originating from elephants in western and central Africa, which they called one of the largest seizures of ivory on record in the U.S. Prosecutors allege that Victor Gordon, 68, hired someone to travel to Africa to smuggle the ivory into the country through John F. Kennedy Airport in New York, and sold it at his African art store on North Third Street.
Despite international efforts to crack down on the poaching of African elephants, which are an endangered species, demand has soared, officials said.
“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 Lynch said yesterday.
Gordon pleaded not guilty at an arraignment yesterday in Brooklyn. Defense Attorney Daniel-Paul Alva claims his client collected most of the seized collection before a 1975 international treaty and the cache includes pieces given to him by his father.
“If there was any ivory that was after the embargo, he had it [not knowing] that it was post-embargo,” Alva said. “He was hoping to start a museum of African art.”
Authorities did not give an estimated value of the ivory seized, but Alva pegged it as “millions of dollars.”