By Nate Raymond and Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Philadelphia man was sentenced Wednesday to 2-1/2 years in prison for smuggling African elephant ivory into the United States, in a case that resulted in one of the largest seizures of illegal ivory in U.S. history.
Victor Gordon, 71, was also ordered by U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto in Brooklyn to pay a $7,500 fine and forfeit $150,000, along with roughly one ton of elephant ivory that federal agents collected from his art store in April 2009.
The sentencing caps an eight-year investigation that has resulted in nine convictions in Brooklyn for illegally importing elephant ivory, prosecutors said.
The slaughter of African elephants for their ivory remains a major threat to their survival, according to conservationists, and the illegal trade has gained attention in the United States in recent years.
Brooklyn U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement that the prosecution of Gordon was emblematic of the United States' commitment to prevent the flow of illegal ivory within its borders.
"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," Lynch said.
Prosecutors said Gordon acquired over a nine year period more than 400 pieces of carved elephant ivory worth $800,000.
Daniel-Paul Alva, Gordon's lawyer, did not respond to a request for comment. In court papers, Alva had asked that Gordon receive no jail time. He also said that while Gordon collected ivory, it was not the central part of his business or life, and he was not the "criminal mastermind" portrayed by prosecutors.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Grant McCool)