Photo of Fish & Wildlife Agents in the Gibson Guitar factory
About twenty armed fish and game agents barged their way into the factories and yelled, GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR, GET DOWN ON THE FLOOR… FEDERAL AGENTS. Workers were then made to leave and wait outside while the agents searched the factories and seized materials belonging to the manufacturer.
This wasn’t a major drug raid. It was a raid on three guitar factories and their offices. They weren’t just any factories, they were factories belonging to the great American guitar company – Gibson Guitars.
The agents raided Gibson in 2009 and again in 2011.
The Fish & Wildlife Service agents who conducted the raids were looking for unfinished Madagascar ebony, wood which was being used to make fret boards.
An obscure, little-used law known as the Lacey Act of 1900 was updated in 2008 to make it illegal to import plant products, including wood, exported in violation of another country’s laws. The purpose of the law was to stop illegal logging.
The law is retroactive and applies to private buyers as well. If someone travels abroad and buys a guitar made decades ago with a now-banned wood, they could be held liable and suffer the penalties.
Such is the power of our government.
The CEO, Henry Juszkjewicz, had letters from high-level Madagascar officials as well as from an independent board saying the wood he was using was legal. No one in the government cared. They decided the unfinished wood he was using was illegal. They found one box of Indian wood in one factory that was labeled finished when it was actually unfinished. That made their case in their view.
Mr. Juszkjewicz was told by the feds that if he would import wood finished by Indians in India instead of using US labor, his problems would go away.
He was also expected to know the laws of every country AND whether or not our country would agree that their law was violated or not.
video of Peter Schiff interview with Henry Juszkiewicz
The wood used by Gibson Guitars is the same wood used by one of their competitors, Martin Guitars, who were not raided.
While not proof of anything, two differences between the companies stand out. The Martin Guitar company is unionized and Gibson is not. Martin Guitar’s CEO donates to Democrats while Gibson’s CEO donates primarily to Republicans.
The lumber unions, unhappy about the use of foreign wood, might have been the impetus behind the government’s overreaching assault on the company.
In any case, someone targeted Gibson.
Mr. Juszkjewicz, was unable to find out why he was raided for more than two years and then only after he hired attorneys to look into it. He contacted his congressmen but was told they could not intervene in an ongoing investigation.
He tried to have the case heard in the court system but the Department of Justice prevented that from happening. That would be the same DOJ that wants terrorists to have their day in court.
In the end, Gibson lost about $5 million dollars in seized materials and legal fees. They had to settle to save the company. They entered into a “criminal enforcement agreement” which meant they would not be charged but they were required to pay a $300,000 penalty and $50,000 to a federal conservation fund.
At least we can all rest easy knowing that the government is keeping us safe from US companies that make guitars.