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 glassdoor.com.

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. Certainly you have the freedom of speech. It is just a good idea that when you talk about something it would be helpful if you stayed in areas you know something about. For those areas in which you know little, it is better to ask for information or explanations rather than to claim knowledge you do not have. That is the way folks avoid “foot in mouth” disease.

    No one knows everything, but the collection of good people that inhabit this blawg have a vast amount of knowledge on a wide array of topics.

  2. Clinton,

    The general rule for federal criminal cases is 5 years…

    Specifically:

    The federal statute of limitations is 18 USC 3282, and it provides the following:

    Except as otherwise expressly provided by law, no person shall be prosecuted, tried, or punished for any offense, not capital, unless the indictment is found or the information is instituted within five years next after such offense shall have been committed.

    I have had drug cases that were filed 4 years and 330 days after the crime was allegedly committed….

    The next issue is PC Warrants are generally issued for “heavily regulated” industry’s… If they trading in prohibited woods then, its possible for a PC warrant to be issued…A lot of that will depend in which Federal District Court it is filed…from what I understand…it is a hit and miss in California…it depends on which Judge draws it…Suffice it to say…a Judge probably never saw this…it was more than likely a Magistrate that issued the same….

    Now, if it has been more than 5 years since the original charges were filed…then you might have a serious argument….But, if I were the prosecutor I would say that each and every sales of the commodity containing the prohibited wood is a separate and distinct offense…

    Much akin to busting the original person smuggling cocaine and the government letting just enough in to find out where it goes…and then charging each and everyone in the supply chain with conspiracy to traffic in illegal, controlled or prohibited items…

    Presently pending is a case in I think Missouri…they think a man killed his wife the state can’t prove it….because he sent emails threatening someone across state lines…the Feds have picked up the case to prosecute him….MO probably had something to do with this….

  3. Clinton, the law is very complex. I have cases on my desk that have dragged out over several years. One murder case in particular started when the defendant was 16 years old, and he is now in his early 20s. Lawyers ask for continuances constantly and they are granted. There is a reason law school (at least the good ones) are so tough. And why Constitutional law is a specialty area. There is more than two hundred years of case law that spells out the details. It is not just the simple language contained in the Constitution itself, but what the SCOTUS has explained those passages mean. Gibson has lots of money and can hire the best lawyers around. You can bet they are not sitting on their hands, but are working diligently for their client. May I respectfully suggest that until you can command a fee of between three and five hundred dollars an hour for your legal expertise, leave the lawyering to the lawyers.

  4. Here’s the violation on property. Gibson in NOT getting due process..

    Amendment 14 – Citizenship Rights. Ratified 7/9/1868. Note History

    1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

  5. I am not a law student but a simple guitar man. I have 1st hand learned that if you place 10 people in a position of power 9 will abuse it in someway or another. This is an abuse of power! The feds should have had probable cause to get the warrant in the 1st place then held an official press conference stating what their exact intention were after the raid. We see this everyday. They have not done ANY of this which is makes them look really suspicious…

  6. No you are incorrect, the warrant was issued to and I quote “determine probable cause”. Violation #1. Right to a speedy trial, almost 2 years and no charges yet? Violation#2. Where is the feds press release??? Why have no charges been filed & how is the feds able to suspend the case indefinably?

  7. Clinton, it is clear to me that your knowledge of the Constitution is limited to what you read in the popular press. If by chance you are a law student, then all I can say is, you have a long road ahead of you.

  8. RE: speedy trial. As far as I know a trial date has not been set, but you can bet the lawyers will NOT miss key dates and will get all their filings in on time. Judges take a dim view of lawyers who miss filing deadlines.

  9. Clinton, they executed a Court issued warrant for search and seizure. All legal under the 4th Amendment and signed by a judge. The authority is the law passed by Congress. The Gibson people have the right to go into court and challenge the warrant, but their chances of prevailing are poor, IMHO.

  10. Amendment 6 – Right to Speedy Trial, Confrontation of Witnesses. Ratified 12/15/1791.

    In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.

  11. mendment 4 – Search and Seizure. Ratified 12/15/1791.

    The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  12. Clinton, I am sitting here scratching my head wondering what part of the Constitution they did not uphold when the law was passed. Could you show me the Article and section that was violated?

  13. OK so Treason is a bit much but my point is still valid, they had an obligation to uphold the US Constitution and in this case it appears they failed to do that! I have an idea, have the feds go after a gun manufacturer for the very same reason (gun stocks are made from East Indian Rosewood) and watch how fast people rise up and revolt. I’m a professional guitarist so you can see how this bothers me. I live in a state where our slogan is ‘Live Free Or Die’. In NH this statement is serious business!!! Most residents will lay down our lives for freedom which is why NH is the #1 free-est state in the union. Look it up. I doubt this would have happened in NH or the feds would be dealing with the locals as well.
    If you only understand something from 1 perspective you really don’t understands it at all…so with that, I’ll be dancing around my bonfire with a feather strapped to my head while whacking back a bottle of scotch naked singing a rain chant…why you ask??? Because I can! I’m an American bound by the laws set forth the in US Constitution…

  14. Sorry, Cliinton, the treason argument does not work because arresting someone for violating a law enacted by Congress is not treason. If you have a problem with the law, then it needs to be challenged before a Court of proper jurisdiction or repealed by Act of Congress.

    FYI, this is the definition of treason as defined in the United States Code. Title 18, Part I, Chaper 115:

    § 2381. Treason:

    Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

    Arresting someone for using illegally imported materials and circumventing laws designed primarily to protect endangered species is not treason. Did you know that you may not buy ivory items that have not been carved or decorated by qualified indigenous native crafters? For example, you cannot buy ivory blanks to scrimshaw yourself.

  15. Also, no where is your mind is there a little red flag going up saying “this sounds fishy”? Like someone ordered the raid to suppress Gibson saying something like “Go in there and FIND something no matter how trivial to bring them down”. I find in this case there are many red flags and I’ve learned in life never to ignore the red flags. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck it’s a duck!
    The raid was because American workers were ‘working’ the wood? That’s the feds story! I know where some REAL drug dealers live if the feds need a real crime to solve!

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