MEMPHIS-Armed federal officers from the Fish and Wildlife Service and Homeland Security entered three Gibson Guitar plants in Nashville and Memphis on Aug. 24, evacuated them, and confiscated several pallets of ebony logs from India as well as guitars and computer hard drives. The agents told employees they had evidence that the famed guitar maker was in violation of an Indian law that requires all exported wood to be finished by Indian workers. Gibson's practice is to use U.S. workers for finishing.
Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz says his employees were "treated like drug criminals" and that the government is identifying the wood as illegal "not because of U.S. law, but because of the Justice Department's interpretation of a law in India." He says the company has been buying wood from India for over 17 years and that the ebony in question was properly sourced and approved by Indian authorities.
The incident marks the second raid for Gibson in two years. In November 2009 agents seized a shipment of ebony from Madagascar they claim was in violation of the Lacey Act, a century-old wildlife protection law expanded in 2008. Gibson says it has sworn affidavits and documents from the Madagascar government that prove the company legally exported the wood but haven't been given an opportunity to present them. The Justice Department will not comment on the 2009 raid. It has yet to file criminal charges against the company nor has it returned the confiscated property.
At an Aug. 25 press conference, Juszkiewicz said, "Over the last two years, we have hired 580 American workers yet the government is spending millions of dollars on this. They flew agents in from New Orleans, Albuquerque, and Washington, D.C." He added, "We feel totally abused. We believe the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company personally, and the employees here in Tennessee, and it's just plain wrong."
Listen to a report on the Gibson Guitar raid on The World and Everything in It.