Africa: Elephant Ivory Smuggling Nets Prison Time for U.S. Store Owner


Press Release, U.S. Department of State

Date Published

Washington — Victor Gordon, owner of a store in Philadelphia, was sentenced before Judge Kiyo A. Matsumoto in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn, New York, to 30 months’ imprisonment, to be followed by two years of supervised release, for smuggling elephant ivory into the United States.

As part of that sentence, handed down June 4, the court ordered Gordon to pay a fine of $7,500 and to forfeit $150,000, along with the approximately 1 ton of elephant ivory that was seized by agents from Gordon’s Philadelphia store in April 2009.

The sentence was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Honora Gordon, special agent in charge of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Northeast Region Office of Law Enforcement.

“The illicit trade in elephant ivory has created an environmental crisis in Africa and is fueling the development of organized criminal groups around the world,” said Lynch, on the Department of Justice website. “For this reason, the United States has committed itself, through international treaties and domestic law, to preventing the flow of illegal ivory through and within our borders.

This prosecution – which resulted in the seizure and forfeiture of one of the largest known caches of illegal elephant ivory in the United States and the imprisonment of the person who acquired and attempted to profit from it – is emblematic of that commitment.”

As is described in the government’s sentencing memorandum, over a period of at least nine years, Gordon acquired more than 400 pieces of carved elephant ivory, valued at approximately $800,000.

On four occasions beginning in 2006, Gordon paid a smuggler to acquire ivory directly from Africa and then unlawfully bring it into the United States through New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

In some instances, Gordon stained the ivory and directed the smuggler to create false receipts to make it appear that the ivory had been lawfully acquired before international and U.S. law imposed strict regulations on the importation of elephant ivory in 1989, the Department of Justice said.

Over the years, Justice added in an article on its website, Gordon sold tens of thousands of dollars of carved ivory to customers from his Philadelphia store, and prior to the search of the store in April 2009, was attempting to sell his business, including the ivory collection, for $20 million.

Gordon’s sentence caps an eight-year investigation that has yielded nine convictions in this district for smuggling and Lacey Act offenses relating to the illegal importation and sale of elephant ivory.

U.S. officials have said the need for action against wildlife trafficking – especially trafficking in elephant ivorty – is urgent. U.S. Agency for International Development official Eric Postel in May told U.S. Senate subcommittees that there has been a 62 percent decline in forest elephant populations in Central Africa between 2002 and 2011.

He also cited the precarious situation of the world’s largest white rhino population in Africa’s Kruger National Park and said illegal shark-finning operations are pushing some shark species to the brink of extinction.

USFWS Director Dan Ashe told those same Senate panels that there also was human cost to the illegal trade, citing the “hundreds of park rangers” that have been killed in the line of duty in Africa during the past few years.

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