Gibson vs. DOJ

For the second time in 2 years, the Feds have come down on Gibson Guitar for suspicion of having illegally imported native hardwoods from outside the United States.

This Wednesday (8/25) agents from the Fish and Wildlife Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement raided the Gibson facilities in both Memphis and Nashville. According to Gibson, the agents confiscated substantial amounts of Gibson property and have so far refused any public comment.

CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told The Tennessean that the Department of Justice holds that the company must cease production at both of these facilities, as any guitar shipped could be viewed as obstruction of justice. Juszkiewicz intends to defy the government and is continuing to build and ship product.

His defiance was made even more clear in a press release issued yesterday over his name. It details the company’s response to both this, and the raid that occurred in 2009.

The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. 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. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.

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. Gibson has fully cooperated with the execution of the search warrants.

•    Raid shut down Gibson factories and cost company money

This is the second time that federal agents have raided Gibson facilities and disrupted production – this time causing lost productivity and sales.

•    Wood seized was Forest Stewardship Council Controlled

The wood the Government seized on August 24 is from a Forest Stewardship Council certified supplier and is FSC Controlled, meaning that the wood complies with the standards of the Forest Stewardship Council, which is an industry-recognized and independent, not-for-profit organization established to promote responsible management of the world’s forests. FSC Controlled Wood standards require, among other things, that the wood not be illegally harvested and not be harvested in violation of traditional and civil rights. See for more information. Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.

•    Nearly two years later, no charges have been filed

In 2009, more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons invaded the Gibson factory in Nashville. The Government seized guitars and a substantial amount of ebony fingerboard blanks from Madagascar. To date, 1 year and 9 months later, 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. Gibson is attempting to have its property returned in a civil proceeding that is pending in federal court.

The Justice Department has asked the judge to stop the court case indefinitely.

•    Information sought in raid was already made available

Since 2009, Gibson has fully cooperated with the Government’s investigation of wood and has provided substantial documentation regarding Gibson’s wood-buying activities over the years. Yet, the Federal Government raided Gibson’s facilities on August 24, 2011, without warning or communication of any kind. Had the Government simply communicated with Gibson, Gibson would have cooperated without having to stop its production and send workers home.

•    Not about illegal logging, not about conservation, not about the environment

The U.S. Lacey Act does not directly address conservation issues but is about obeying all laws of the countries from which wood products are procured. This law reads that you are guilty if you did not observe a law even though you had no knowledge of that law in a foreign country. The U.S. Lacey Act is only applicable when a foreign law has been violated.

•    Gibson is innocent and will fight to protect its rights

Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of ANY wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.

This could be a very interesting battle. In our bluegrass world, it’s hard to imagine Gibson as David versus a government Goliath, but they clearly are an underdog here against an aggressive enforcement division of the Department of Justice.

These raids had no impact on the company’s Original Acoustic Instrument division, responsible for banjos, mandolins and Dobros, as that section has been inactive since the Nashville flood that destroyed their facility at the Opryland Mall in May of 2010.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.