Tag: Luthiers Mercantile International
On Wednesday, August 24th, 2011, agents for the U.S. government executed four search warrants on Gibson Guitar’s facilities in Nashville and Memphis, Tennessee, and seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. The raids forced Gibson to cease manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day while armed agents of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service executed the search warrants for ebony and rosewood that was imported from India.
The federal officials claim that Gibson violated the Lacey Act, which stipulates that a company cannot import wood in a manner that’s against the laws of the country the wood is coming from. However, Gibson has complied with Indian law and no concerns have been raised by the Indian government.
“Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Gibson Guitar Chairman and CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”
Juszkiewicz believes that the Justice Department is bullying Gibson without filing charges. This is the second time Gibson has been raided by the federal government (the first was in 2009), yet no charges have been filed and the materials confiscated on both occasions remain in federal hands.
But Juszkiewicz says the government won’t tell him exactly how — or if — his company has violated that law.
“We’re in this really incredible situation. We have been implicated in wrongdoing and we haven’t been charged with anything,” he says. “Our business has been injured to millions of dollars. And we don’t even have a court we can go to and say, ‘Look, here’s our position.‘”
The U.S. Justice Department won’t comment about the case it’s preparing, but a court motion filed in June asserts Gibson‘s Madagascar ebony was contraband. It quotes emails that seem to show Gibson taking steps to maintain a supply chain that’s been connected to illegal timber harvests.
From the Wall Street Journal:
The law ensnaring Gibson is the Lacey Act of 1900, originally passed to regulate trade in bird feathers used for hats and amended in 2008 to cover wood and other plant products. It requires companies to make detailed disclosures about wood imports and bars the purchase of goods exported in violation of a foreign country’s laws.
Leonard Krause, a consultant in Eugene, Ore., who advises companies on complying with the Lacey Act, is telling clients they should hire lawyers in countries where they obtain products. “How many people know the statutes in India?” Mr. Krause said. “The net effect is that it raises everybody’s cost of doing business.”
Federal agents first raided Gibson factories in November 2009 and were back again Aug. 24, seizing guitars, wood and electronic records. Gene Nix, a wood product engineer at Gibson, was questioned by agents after the first raid and told he could face five years in jail.
“Can you imagine a federal agent saying, ‘You’re going to jail for five years’ and what you do is sort wood in the factory?” said Mr. Juszkiewicz, recounting the incident. “I think that’s way over the top.” Gibson employees, he said, are being “treated like drug criminals.”
Mr. Nix hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing. He couldn’t be reached for comment.
What’s most puzzling about this case is that India is perfectly happy to ship the fingerboard ‘blanks’ to the United States. In a letter dated July 13, the deputy director general of foreign trade for India confirmed that “fingerboards made of rosewood and ebony is (sic) freely exportable.”
U.S. Fish and Wildlife offered no comment about the discrepancy. But people involved in the import and export of musical instruments and parts believe the US Department of Justice offered its own interpretation of Indian law. Even though India saw no reason for an enforcement action, the U.S. did.
There was a discrepancy in the import of this latest shipment of wood. It was listed with an improper tariff code, which the importer, Luthiers Mercantile International of Windsor, Calif., claimed was a clerical error by a junior employee and tried to clear up. But rather than talk to the importer and Gibson about it, the Justice Department dispatched U.S. Fish and Wildlife and DHS agents to raid the Gibson compounds.
Gibson feels it has been unfairly targeted. “We are being singled out. Very much so. Every music instrument company in the United States uses rosewood fingerboards. Period. And they’re in the same state – they’re buying from the same suppliers, they’re using the same shippers.”
And more from Foxnews.com:
Reps. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., on Thursday (today) plan to introduce a proposal to amend the so-called Lacey Act. The expansive law makes it illegal to buy, sell or travel with certain wood products, and requires owners to carry specific documentation for others. The lawmakers say this threatens musicians, antique dealers and others who travel with products containing rare plant or wood materials.
The amendments would “grandfather” all instruments and furniture made before May 22, 2008, when the law was last updated to cover exotic woods, so owners of those products would not face prosecution.
The amendment would also try to clarify portions of the act that require compliance with foreign laws, calling on the government to put together a database of all relevant laws. Plus the amendment would reduce the paperwork necessary to import and export musical instruments and furniture manufactured before that 2008 date.
Ok, so we’ve all read about what the Government is doing to Gibson, and how they are being mistreated and targeted. But where in all of this (and please go to the links and read all of the stories plus the hundreds of other articles about the same thing I didn’t link to) did anyone see WHY Gibson was being targeted? Sure Fox News said that it is because the Gibson CEO was a Republican. And the reason Martin and other US companies hadn’t been was because they were Democrats. I call bullshit. We have 2.5 wars currently ongoing (.5 being Libya), an economic crisis that is beginning to look like the Great Depression of 1929 was a minor blip in economic hardship, a President who is still working on his Healthcare package, and job stimulus package while removing troops from Iraq ASAP. You think he has time to target a Republican owned company that just makes guitars? And let’s not forget FOX News is a Republican lap dog.
Or, could it simply be that Gibson has actually made a mistake, honest or otherwise, and are actually guilty of using wood ‘illegally‘ gained? Sure they are crying ‘foul‘ so they don’t look guilty, but really, at the end of the day, do YOU care that they used rosewood illegally harvested in India or some other country for their inlays? No. And neither do I.
Yes it looks a little funny that they haven’t been charged after the raid in 2009, and have been raided again and STILL not charged, but have you heard about the West Memphis Three???? Stranger more fucked up things have sadly happened in our judicial system.
If Gibson is guilty, shame on them. Ok, again I don’t care if they are guilty. Who cares where the wood came from? Besides tree huggers and our Government that is.
If the government IS targeting them for some reason, WTF are they thinking? Why would you target a company that builds all of it’s top of the line GIBSON guitars IN the USA? Sure their lesser brands are made overseas, but their actual GIBSON lines are made here in the US. So Wal-Mart can import every conceivable piece of shit manufactured in China and screw the US employees out of benefits left and right, and they are ‘Government Target Exempt‘. But Gibson is being targeted for INLAYS for its guitars?
Of course this will (or won’t so far) play out in the courts for some time to come. It will be interesting to see the fallout and how this shakes out for Gibson.
What can you do? Well, if you don’t care where Gibson gets it’s wood, or if you think they are squeaky clean and should have been raided, you can go here and sign this petition from Change.org. You can also post a link to this editorial everywhere.
Now go buy a Gibson guitar, support MADE IN USA, and create some mad riffs so I have something to write about next week.