Sunday, February 12, 2012

Ivory Smuggling Case Moves Forward

Plea negotiations continue in the case of United States v. Victor Gordon, according to a recent letter filed in court by Gordon's attorney. The US District Court for the Eastern District of New York has scheduled a status conference in the matter for March 15, 2012.

A federal grand jury indicted Philadelphia art dealer Victor Gordon in July 2011 for unlawfully importing and selling illegal African elephant ivory. Gordon is charged with conspiracy to smuggle elephant ivory, four counts of smuggling, and five Lacey Act violations.  Agents arrested him in July.  A person indicted is presumed innocent unless prosecutors prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  

The Lacey Act 16 USC 3371 et seq. protects wildlife and other natural resources. Under the law, it is illegal to import, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase specified wildlife taken, possessed, transported or sold in violation of any law, treaty or regulation of the United States.

The indictment also cites the Endangered Species Act 16 USC 1531 et seq., which makes it illegal to possess or trade illegal African ivory under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Legal import into the United States only occurs when a person obtains an import permit plus a foreign export permit issued by the country of origin or a foreign re-export permit issued by the country of re-export.

The indictment alleges that between 2006 and 2009 Gordon paid a person to travel to Africa on multiple occasions to "purchase raw elephant ivory and have it carved to Gordon's specifications. In advance of each trip, Gordon provided [the person] with photographs or other depictions of ivory carvings to serve as templates. Gordon also directed [the person] to stain or dye the elephant ivory specimens so that the specimens would appear to be old."  The ivory was brought through JFK International Airport in New York inside luggage before being sold by Gordon at his store in Philadelphia.

Federal prosecutors seek criminal forfeiture of the items seized. Specifically, they seek cash and objects that include nearly 500 ivory tusks and carvings seized between 2009 and 2010 in Pennsylvania, New York, Missouri, Kansas, Florida, and California.

If convicted, Gordon could face up to 20 years in prison.