The Great Gibson Guitar Raid: Months Later, Still No Charges Filed

The Great Gibson Guitar Raid: Months Later, Still No Charges Filed

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Originally posted by Rob Bluey @ The Foundry

Armed federal agents raided Gibson Guitar’s Nashville headquarters in August, creating a national outcry over the high-profile persecution. But today, six months after the raid, the Department of Justice has yet to file any charges against the company.

Why did the government go after Gibson? A new video from Reason.tv explores the implications of the case, problems with the Lacey Act and how overcriminalization is threatening the American way of life.

“They…come in with weapons, they seized a half-million dollars worth of property, they shut our factory down, and they have not charged us with anything,” says Gibson Guitars CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, referring to the August 2011 raid on his Nashville and Memphis factories by agents from the Departments of Homeland Security and Fish & Wildlife.

The feds raided Gibson for using an inappropriate tariff code on wood from India, which is a violation of the anti-trafficking statute known as The Lacey Act. At issue is not whether the wood in question was endangered, but whether the wood was the correct level of thickness and finish before being exported from India. “India is wanting to ensure that raw wood is not exported without some labor content from India,” says Juskiewicz.

Andrea Johnson of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) counters that “it’s not up to Gibson to decide which laws…they want to respect.” She points out that Gibson had previously been raided under The Lacey Act for imports from Madagascar.

This much is clear: The government has yet to file any charges or allow Gibson a day in court to makes its case, much less retrieve its materials. “This is not about responsible forestry and sustainable wood or illegal logging, this is about a bureaucratic law,” argues Juszkiewicz, who testified last year before a congressional hearing convened by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). It is, he says, “a blank check for abuse.”

At the time of the August raid, the second on the company since 2009, agents were working off a tip that Gibson broke laws in India and Madagascar, two countries that supply Gibson with ebony and other scarce woods for its guitars. At issue is the Lacey Act, which makes it illegal to import some tropical hardwoods in violation of foreign laws. As a result of both raids, federal agents seized more than $1 million of Gibson’s property.

Gibson’s supporters have rallied behind the company. Musicians ranging from blues legend B.B. King to rock stars with Led Zeppelin and Aerosmith have used its guitars. Gibson chairman and chief executive Henry Juszkiewicz has testified before Congress about the ordeal. He visited Heritage last year to speak out against what he called unfair persecution from his own government.

Even though both India and Madagascar say Gibson did nothing wrong, the company is facing an uncertain future as a result of the government’s actions. It is unclear when or if the Department of Justice will file charges.

Juszkiewicz, himself a conservationist devoted to preserving natural resources, said it is a classic case of Washington’s overreach.

Watch our interview with Gibson chairman and chief executive Henry Juszkiewicz