Gibson Guitars Raid Story


On August 24, 2011, around 8:45 a.m. CDT, 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.

For the second time in two years, armed federal agents have illegally raided the manufacturing facilities of Gibson Guitars Corp., this time confiscating more than a million dollars worth of imported wood and ebony -- and they did so without proper notice or warning, without any valid reason, and without lawful charges of any kind.

Gibson, one of the world's premier guitar manufacturers, and a company that has continually tried to honestly and readily abide by domestic and international laws concerning its material sourcing while continuing to provide quality products to its customers, has for some reason landed in the cross fire of the federal gestapo.

Though Gibson has not violated any laws, and has gone above and beyond mandated requirements for sourcing sustainable wood and other materials for its instruments, the heavy hand of a bloated and out-of-control government has decided to unlawfully target the company for extinction. Authorities indicate they may charge the company for illegally importing ebony from India in defiance of laws that ban the use of endangered plants and timber.

Gibson, which makes the SG electric guitar used by Angus Young of AC/DC and produced the J-160E acoustic-electric played by John Lennon, has denied any wrongdoing.

According to a Gibson press release, they still haven’t been told on what charges “more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons” raided their factory and stole their property in November 2009. They’re being forced to sue in federal court to get their property back, and even there the government is stalling, having requested an indefinite stay of the case.

Both raids appear to stem from allegations that Gibson imported wood from foreign countries in violation of the Lacey Act. Originally enacted to prevent trafficking in endangered species, the act was amended in 2008 to include plants. According to the Rainforest Alliance:

The law makes it illegal to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant, with some limited exceptions, taken or traded in violation of the laws of the U.S., a U.S. State, or relevant foreign law. The U.S. government can use this law to impose significant penalties on individuals and companies who are found guilty of such acts.

Wood being a plant product, any company that imports any wood-based product must, as the Wall Street Journal put it, meet “every regulatory jot and tittle” of the country from which the wood was harvested — and, says Gibson, that applies “if you did not observe a law even though you had no knowledge of that law in a foreign country.” Moreover, because (in the words of the Rainforest Alliance) “the ban on illegal timber as defined in the Lacey Act amendments has not been supported by a clear framework of regulation that sets guidelines for importers, exporters and traders,” it leaves the government a wide range of discretion to persecute businesses that have run afoul of politicians, political appointees, and bureaucrats.

The 2009 raid concerned wood imported from Madagascar, which the Justice Department maintains was obtained in violation of Madagascan law. “Gibson,” says the company’s press release, “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.”

This year’s raid seems to be about wood from India. The Justice Department “has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India,” Gibson explains. “This action,” the company hastens to point out, “was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”

In other words, if the U.S. government thinks a U.S. company has violated a foreign law in the course of importing wood products, it then charges (or at least raids) that company under the Lacey Act, confiscating the company’s property and fighting tooth and nail to retain it. This happens whether or not the United States’ interpretation of the law agrees with the foreign country’s interpretation of it and whether or not the foreign country has made a formal request to the U.S. government to charge the company with a violation of its law.

Gibson, for its part, seems to have gone out of its way to comply with the Lacey Act, making sure that its wood complies with Forest Stewardship Council standards, which include ensuring that wood is harvested legally. In addition, the company has kowtowed to environmentalist heavyweights such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace. One would think this would gain the company some favor in Barack Obama’s Justice Department, but apparently not.

In an August 25 press conference Gibson chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz calmly but forcefully condemned the government’s actions and maintained his company’s innocence. The raid itself, he said, was “extremely troubling. What is more troubling is that the Justice Department’s position is any guitar that we ship out of this facility is potentially obstruction of justice and could be followed with criminal charges.”

Juszkiewicz noted the irony of conducting such an assault on Gibson at a time of high unemployment, saying the company had “hired over 580 American workers” over the past two years. “We are one company manufacturing in the United States that’s hiring people,” he added, “and yet the government is spending millions of dollars on this issue.” Should the government triumph over Gibson, it would end up forcing the company’s wood to be finished in foreign countries instead of in the United States, thereby depriving some Americans of employment in favor of foreigners.

“We feel totally abused,” Juszkiewicz remarked. “We believe that the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company personally, and its employees here in Tennessee. And it’s just plain wrong.”

Big importers like Gibson aren’t the only ones who have reason to find these raids troubling. The Journal reports that “musicians who play vintage guitars and other instruments made of environmentally protected materials are worried the authorities may be coming for them next.”

If you are the lucky owner of a 1920s Martin guitar, it may well be made, in part, of Brazilian rosewood. Cross an international border with an instrument made of that now-restricted wood, and you better have correct and complete documentation proving the age of the instrument. Otherwise, you could lose it to a zealous customs agent — not to mention face fines and prosecution. …

It’s not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What’s the bridge made of? If it’s ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar’s headstock bone, or could it be ivory? “Even if you have no knowledge — despite Herculean efforts to obtain it — that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever,” [Quinnipiac University law] Prof. [John]Thomas has written. “Oh, and you’ll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration.”

Thus, on top of all the unconstitutional environmental laws the federal government enforces, it is now attempting to enforce, at its own discretion and in excruciating detail, all other foreign countries’ environmental laws, even when those countries do not believe their laws have been violated.

Given this policy’s negative effects on Americans’ liberties and livelihoods, we may all be strumming the blues soon — probably on guitars made in countries with less overbearing governments than the one that presumes to lead the free world.

History of the Gibson Guitar Corporation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Gibson Guitar Corporation was founded by Orville Gibson, who made mandolins in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in the late 1890s. He invented archtop guitars by using the same type of carved, arched tops found on violins. By the 1930s, the company was also making flattop acoustic guitars, as well as one of the first commercially available hollow-body electric guitars, which were used and popularized by Charlie Christian. In the early 1950s, Gibson introduced its first solid-body electric guitar and its most popular guitar to date—the Les Paul. After being purchased by the Norlin corporation in the late 1960s Gibson's quality and fortunes took a steep decline until early 1986, when the company was rescued by its present owners. Gibson Guitar is a privately held corporation (company stock is not publicly traded on a stock exchange), owned by chief executive officer Henry Juszkiewicz and president David H. (Dave) Berryman.

Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar Corp., responds to the August 24 raid of Gibson facilities in Nashville and Memphis by the Federal Government.

Gibson CEO talks about the 24th August raid on Gibson Factories

"The federal bureaucracy is just out of hand...and it seems to me there’s almost a class warfare of companies versus people, rich versus poor, Republicans versus Democrats … and there’s just a lack of somebody that stands up and says, 'I’m about everyone. I’m really about America and doing what’s good for the country and not fighting these little battles.'"

"We feel totally abused. We believe the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company personally and the employees here in Tennessee, and it’s just plain wrong."
- Gibson chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz

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