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Philadelphia African Art Store Owner Charged With Smuggling Elephant Ivory

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Federal investigators allege the owner of an Old City African Art store was also involved in selling about $1 million worth of illegal elephant tusks.

It was an international illegal smuggling operation, the U.S government claims, that prayed on one of Africa's most majestic endangered natural treasures.

Elephant tusks, dozens of them from an untold number of elephants, all carved up and ready to be sold were found on the premises, according to agents with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.

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"This ivory represents one of the largest ivory seizures in the United States," said Ed Grace from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

Investigators contend the tusks were all being sold out of an Old City store on 3rd Street just north of Market.

The owner of the store, 68-year-old Victor Gordon, has been arrested and is facing several felony counts related to the alleged smuggling ring.

"It's really a sad thing when you are killing an intelligent, beautiful animal like this for a trinket," said Marianne Bessey.

Bessey is a local elephant activist who fought to close down the Philadelphia Zoo's elephant exhibit. She says many African poachers don't bother using bullets to kill the elephants, opting instead to use machetes or arrows to slow the animals down.

"To take the tusks off and then die a long lingering death, it's a horrific way to die," Bessey said.

Investigators claim Gordon would hire someone to buy the tusks in Africa, have them craved and then stained to look old.

Elephant tusks from before 1989 are legal to sell.

"It alleges that he sold the carvings to customers at his store in Philadelphia, falsely representing the items to be antiques," said Special Agent Sal Amato with the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

If convicted, Victor Gordon could face a maximum of 20-years behind bars.

Reported by Todd Quinones, CBS 3

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