The owner of an African art store has been arrested on charges of smuggling elephant ivory into the U.S. through John F. Kennedy Airport to sell at his shop.
Federal prosecutors say Victor Gordon, 68, paid an associate to purchase the ivory in Africa and have it carved to his specifications. It was also stained to appear old.
The ivory carvings were then smuggled into the U.S. and sold at his Philadelphia store, prosecutors charge.
African elephants are protected and the trade of their ivory has been illegal since about 1990.
“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 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 was being arraigned in federal court Tuesday. His lawyer, Daniel Alva, said 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."