Gibson Guitar Raided For Possible Lacey Act Violations . . . Again

Gibson Guitars are some of the best known instruments in the business. However, the company could soon make some interesting law as well after it was raided by federal agents investigating possible violations of the Lacey Act, the law barring the illegal trade in wildlife, fish, and plants. The company is being investigated for the allegedly unlawful importation of sawn ebony logs from India. This is the second time in two years that the company has been accused of Lacey Act violations.

In November 2009, federal agents seized guitars and fingerboard blanks that were allegedly made from illegally harvested Madagascan rosewood and ebony. Last week the agents seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. From a Reuters report the latest raid is related to a shipment of sawn ebony logs from India that was imported by Gibson illegally, violating the Lacey Act.

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz insists that the raid is simply because the wood was finished in the United States and is based on Indian law being enforced in the U.S. The company released a press statement saying “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.”

The Lacey Act does enforce the laws of other countries to prevent companies from using the United States for trafficking in illegal goods. Ironically, the Act was originally passed to stop the destructive sale of our own domestic resources (particularly bird feathers) but has become a law protecting the natural areas of other nations from the same threat. The Lacey Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 3371–3378) was the brainchild of Iowa Rep. John F. Lacey, who wanted to block the trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold. It was signed into law by President William McKinley on May 25, 1900.

Thus, it is not in anyway odd for the U.S. to enforce the law of another country. Moreover, the affidavit below claims a series of false or misleading statements in the documentation related to this shipment. The agent details what is alleged to be “fraudulently” labeled wood that is an attempt to evade an Indian ban on exports of unfinished wood.

The affidavit below details what is a classic Lacey Act violation with both the content of the shipment and the recipient. Regardless of Juszkiewicz’s politics, this shipment would have been flagged based on these allegations.

It does appear that, if the wood were finished in India, this might not be a violation under Indian law. Moreover, it is the type of violation that can easily occur if you do not use a local attorney to verify such questions. However, it is also true that companies often claim ignorance of local laws will supporting unlawful shipments of wood and other items. The point is that purchasing companies are equally responsible when they import unlawful goods. In my view, the 2009 allegations, detailed in one of the articles below, present a more serious concern in the importation of the wood from Madagascar — an area that has been ravaged by illegal harvesting and corruption.

Conservative bloggers and radio hosts have suggested that this is political retribution for Juszkiewicz’s support of conservative candidates. Gibson appears to be fueling the political allegation with Twitter postings to conservatives.

One report says that either Juszkiewicz or the company is warning that people who now have Gibson Guitars could see their instruments seized by the government. It is a clever tact to work up citizens but it is highly unlikely. It is true that purchase or possession of unlawful material is prohibited under Lacey. The act makes it unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase any fish or wildlife or plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law, treaty, or regulation of the United States or in violation of any Indian tribal law whether in interstate or foreign commerce. Yet, it is rare to see actions taken against individual owners of prior sold products like a guitar. The focus of enforcement is on those in the stream of commerce, particularly shippers, manufacturers, and retailers.

Juszkiewicz objects that his employees are being treated like “drug dealers” though his own relations with his employees may need from fine tuning. The company has also been named in 2009 as the number one “worst to work for” in a survey by

Here is the statement of the Federal Agent: 20110819154237897

For a good discussion of the history of the two cases, click here and here

76 thoughts on “Gibson Guitar Raided For Possible Lacey Act Violations . . . Again

  1. AY, don’t forget the interminable delays sometimes caused by the attorneys for both sides who ask for continuance after continuance.

    I once asked a defendant why he was sent for a mental exam at the state mental hospital. He looked me straight in they eye and replied, “My lawyer thought if I was sent to the mental hospital it would delay things long enough that some witnesses might disappear or forget what happened.”

    At that time there were very long delays and a backlog of cases so a motion for a mental exam might take a year or more to get a defendant seen.

  2. I do know this, I have a degree in custom cabinet woodworking and worked in that trade for years & have been a professional guitarist for 20 years and studying the instrument for 30 years . There in no way to marry a finger board to a guitars neck without ‘working’ the wood. It cannot be done PERIOD. EVERY guitar manufacturer knows this and even India knows this which is why when the product is exported it is 2/3rds the way done. India has no problem with Gibson. The feds are enforcing something that really has nothing to do with them. I could see if India had a problem with Gibson however they do not!

  3. Clinton, the Lacey Act was first passed in the year 1900 and signed into law by President William McKinley. It has been amended several times, but has been the law for more than a century. As for anything being retroactive, each new violation is treated as a new offense, even if it is a new provision in the law. That is what AY was alluding to in his drug crime example.

  4. I can only guess Clinton that if that were the case then it is possible for a case to be dismissed…but not likely….As OS said you have to have people knowledgeable about the Constitution…

    Imagine this scenario….A Defendant or Witness is on the the Witness Stand/Box….they take the 5th…. The Judge acknowledges that the party has the right take the 5th….So the Judge (a Major Asswipe) states to the Defendant/Witness that their testimony is not to be viewed as credible….This is in front of the Jury..So far he has not been reversed…

  5. Clinton, I am a amateur luthier and make mountain dulcimers as a hobby. I understand what you are talking about. Importing rough finished wood, with final fitting in the factory would be legal, IMHO. It is the importation of rough lumber (think 2X4s) that is illegal.

    To go back to the scrimshaw example. It is illegal to purchase raw ivory, but legal if scrimshawed by a Native American craftsman. Now if you are a jewelry maker, you will have to trim and fit the already decorated ivory pieces to the jewelry findings. That would be legal.

  6. All in all great topic. If nothing else this has given everyone here an additional perspective hence increasing our understanding of this topic. Our judicial system in incredibly convoluted at this point in 2011. Understand, it was created by man and man has many flaws so if it’s flawed by only say 10% (which it’s much more realistically speaking) than hundreds of thousands are convicted of crimes they did not commit. Our judicial system is designed to let 10 guilty men go free before 1 innocent man goes to jail. Because of this convolution this is no longer the case. Another sad note, congress is made up mostly of lawyers, were are all the mathematicians, scientists etc.??? Also the laws of accelerated returns dictate this will only worsen.

  7. OS,

    Tactical delays toll the SOL from my experience….I too have used that for the same reasons….I know this is kind of harsh…But I got screwed on my first court appointed case…I was unaware that I got screwed until I got back to the office….The prosecutor convinced me that the client should take the plea and based upon the narrative of the Incident Report… I agreed…

    Remember I said I was new…..I was kind of proud that I did such a great job for the client…the client was happy as well…Only did it dawn on me….there was no Victim or Witness… I then got pissed…I called the prosecutor and tanked him for such a great deal for my client…I ended to conversation with btw….You screwed me…and I will get even one day…But there was no victim, nor witness and you know the case could not have proceeded but for my ignorance…His response was “well what do you want me to do”….It took five years, and I did get even and it would have cost his office over 10K for forensic. He called he and said you know we are never going to send this to forensics don’t you…I said…well, we will wait for trial unless you want to dismiss the case today…

    On the date set for trial…in my Motion in limine….I asked for a dismissal based upon the failure to comply with the courts order…We became great friends after that….and he went to work in one of the better defense firms….

  8. Another perspective on the convolution of our judicial system may be a more optimistic view. Much like the vacuum tube gave rise to the transistor and the transistor gave rise to the CPU, maybe this convolution will give rise to a better, less convoluted, less corrupt, more accurate system of government. When technologies hit brick walls they give rise to other technologies. Maybe the same can be true for ideals & ideas.

  9. Clinton, I found you on YouTube. Very good. Speaking of Fender guitars, no one could make a Telecaster speak like Roy Buchanan. His album “Loading Zone” was a classic.

  10. OS, thanks very much for the kind words. Be sure to download my critically acclaimed album. 100% Free, don’t even ask for your email. I love brain exercise, next topic “Why we are probably alone in the universe”. Anyone up for this one???

  11. This goes to show you how far out of touch Our government is with the American people. This is one more way the government is trying to shove our jobs overseas.


  12. You really make it appear really easy along with your presentation however I to find this topic to be actually something that I believe I might never understand. It sort of feels too complicated and very vast for me. I’m having a look forward for your subsequent publish, I’ll try to get the cling of it!

  13. […] Gibson Guitar Raided For Possible Lacey Act Violations . . . Again …Sep 1, 2011 … The affidavit below details what is a classic Lacey Act violation with … identified it fraudulently as Indian ebony fingerboards for guitars and it did … […]

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