Gibson Guitar Still Face No Charges

On August 24, 2011, agents for the federal government executed four search warrants on Gibson’s facilities in Nashville and Memphis and seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. Gibson had to cease its manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day, while armed agents executed the search warrants.

The raid by armed agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was ostensibly conducted because Gibson was illegally using rare, restricted woods from India and Madagascar to make its guitars… even though nobody in India or Madagascar filed any complaints against them.  The law ensnaring Gibson is the Lacey Act of 1900, originally passed to regulate trade in bird feathers used for hats and amended in 2008 to cover wood and other plant products. It requires companies to make detailed disclosures about wood imports and bars the purchase of goods exported in violation of a foreign country’s laws. The Lacey Act allows the United States government to prosecute importers for violating foreign laws, whether or not the foreign government in question believes a violation has occurred.

This is the second time that federal agents have raided Gibson facilities and disrupted production – this time causing lost productivity and sales.  More than a dozen Federal agents with automatic weapons first raided Gibson factories in November 2009 and were back again Aug. 24, seizing guitars, wood and electronic records. Gene Nix, a wood product engineer at Gibson, was questioned by agents after the first raid and told he could face five years in jail.

“Can you imagine a federal agent saying, ‘You’re going to jail for five years’ and what you do is sort wood in the factory?” said Henry Juszkiewicz, chief executive officer of the closely held company, recounting the incident. “I think that’s way over the top.” Gibson employees, he said, are being “treated like drug criminals.”

To date, criminal charges have NOT been filed, yet the Government still holds Gibson’s property. Gibson has obtained sworn statements and documents from the Madagascar government and these materials, which have been filed in federal court, show that the wood seized in 2009 was legally exported under Madagascar law and that no law has been violated.

A Republican congresswoman from Tennessee, Marsha Blackburn, acting in concert with several powerful House committee heads, unsuccessfully demanded answers from Obama Administration officials, including Attorney General Eric Holder.  There are limits to what Congress can do, given that an active “investigation” is still in progress.

Justice Department spokesmen continue to decline comment while DOJ officials pursue what they say is a possible criminal case against Gibson.

Something else to consider in all of this: Gibson uses the same wood, from many of the same suppliers and importers that nearly every other guitar company in America does. And yet only Gibson has been targeted. You might ask – why?

Without further explanation from the Department of Justice, we can only speculate.  Gibson is based in Tennessee which is a right-to-work state.  Their competitors – Fender, Taylor, Rickenbacker, Danelectro, Carvin, MusicMan, and ESP are in California; Spector is in New York; Martin is in Pennsylvania; Guild, Ovation, and Hamer are in Connecticut; Alvarez is in Missouri; B.C. Rich is in Kentucky; Heritage is in Michigan; Washburn is in Illinois. All are forced-union states.  Hmmmm.  Is there a red flag there?

Adding to the curiosity of the situation, it has come out that Juszkiewicz is a Republican donor.  Is there a political motivation there?  There is some speculation that the Obama administration is sending a warning to Republican businessmen that they had better not oppose his re-election, lest they face criminal investigations. Normally such speculation would not be credible, but Eric Holder has politicized the Department of Justice to a point where such questions must be taken seriously.

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