Victor Gordon, 68, surrendered to federal agents in New York Tuesday and pleaded not guilty to conspiracy, smuggling, and illegally importing ivory. He was released on $1 million bond, the Voice of America reported.
Authorities say Gordon sent an unnamed accomplice to Africa to buy raw ivory illegally and have craftsmen carve it to his specifications. The carvings were treated to appear more than 100 years old, which would make them legal.
Almost 500 carvings, weighing a ton altogether, were seized from Gordon and his customers, officials said.
Eight people in New York have pleaded guilty or been convicted in the smuggling operation since 2006.
Dozens, if not more, endangered Central African forest elephants were killed for the ivory, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent Salvatore Amato told The Philadelphia Inquirer.
The forest elephants' ivory is denser and more prized than tusks from the more common savanna elephants of East Africa.
"We're seeing the last battle for the survival of the forest elephant," said Richard Ruggerio, chief of Fish and Wildlife's conservation programs in Africa.