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FBI Raids Gibson Guitar Factories

September 18, 2011

There is no justice at the Department of Justice. Instead of going after the Wall Street crooks that caused the global economic meltdown, they are wasting their time and our tax dollars harassing the Gibson Guitar Company. On Wednesday August 24, agents with the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the FBI hit Gibson Guitar factories in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee, confiscating all of the Indian Rosewood (the wood used to make fingerboards for their guitars) and a number of computer files. The DOJ contends that the wood was cut and shipped illegally from India. Gibson officials maintain that all the wood is legal. It was cut to the rough dimension in India, which is a requirement of their export rules, it was approved by the export officials in India for export, it was accepted by U.S. Customs for import, and Gibson has all the documentation of these facts for every lot of wood they use everywhere in the company. Furthermore, Gibson contends that they only use Forest Stewardship Council certified wood and that, for years, Gibson has been a part of Greenpeace “Music Wood” coalition. Their CEO was on the Board of the Rainforest Alliance and Gibson was an early adopter of the certification created by the Forest Stewardship Council.

This is not the first time the DOJ has harassed Gibson. In 2009 Gibson’s Nashville factory was raided by the FBI as part of an investigation into the source of its materials. In June 2011 the DOJ filed a civil case relating to the company’s alleged sourcing of ebony from Madagascar, where the harvest and export of unfinished ebony is prohibited. No charges have been filed in either case. They are simply being “investigated” – the same way the FBI might harass the Mafia. This all has to do with the Lacey Act of 1900 that was designed to stop trade in illegal wild game but over time it was amended to add endangered species including wood.

Gibson officials say that without the Rosewood to make their fingerboards, they were forced to shut down their two plants in Tennessee. It’s a million dollar-a-day decision and one that also leaves over 500 employees out of work. So, here we are with the worst unemployment since the Great Depression and the government told Gibson that if they would just have all of the work outsourced to India, the problem would go away. It is unthinkable that the American government would tell an American company to outsource jobs to meet an obscure part of an American regulation that Gibson helped lobby to put in place in order to insure ethical resources.

Under the Lacey Act, the government was able to raid the company and do millions of dollars in business damage without recourse. And, with this new interpretation of the law, a musician can’t take an old guitar on an international trip, because when he comes back, he won’t be able to document where every piece of wood came from – no one can, on any old guitar. That guitar could be confiscated under the Lacey Act. If the harassment of American guitar makers continues, I wouldn’t be surprised if they just move all their operations overseas.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Chuck Book permalink
    September 26, 2011 6:08 PM

    If a hypothetical American musician with his vintage hypothetical guitar, let’s say a beautiful in every way 1930s Gibson or Kay Craft or Martin (pick one, NPI), goes and plays dates in Europe. Upon return, US Customs could, hypothetically, bust her and confiscate the lovely Ebony fingerboard, Rosewood purfling and veneer, Freshwater Pearl and Tortoise Shell finger rest/pickguard, binding and inlay, American Mahogany back, sides, neck/headstock, and Ivory nut, bridge and tuning buttons, she could then re-enter the US with a piece of Birch, some mystery-wood bracing sticks, and various and sundry pieces of steel hardware. Thank goodness they no longer make strings out of Cat-gut.

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