Is Gibson Guitars in trouble with the Feds?


Federal agents with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service shut down the Gibson Guitar factory in Memphis Aug. 24 to serve search warrants.

In the Wall Street Journal: Raid by Federal agents at Gibson Guitar in Nashville, TN. The Commercial Appeal/Zuma Press.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal (WSJ) features a story about a federal raid over wood imported from Asia and Africa. The article, co-authored by JAMES R. HAGERTY and KRIS MAHER, states among other things:

“…Though no charges have been filed, Gibson factories have been raided twice, most recently last week, by federal agents who say ebony exported from India to Gibson was “fraudulently” labeled to conceal a contravention of Indian export law…”

The Lacey Act of 1900

The company argues that middlemen overseas may have signed export papers my mistake, and this may tripped Gibson over the Lacey Act. Originally passed in 1900 to regulate trade in bird feathers, the Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to cover wood “…and other plant products…”

For all details, please read the article at the Journal (WSJ).

Implications for woodworkers

Whether hobby or pro woodworkers, you and I are subject to the Lacey Act. Suppose you are traveling in India or Africa, and you bring back some wood — maybe a little piece you hand-carry on the airplane, or you sent some in your luggage. It is very possible you could be tagged for being in violation of the Act, unless you fill out the proper paperwork. From the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s page describing how this works:

The Lacey Act combats trafficking in “illegal” wildlife, fish, and plants. The 2008 Farm Bill (the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008), effective May 22, 2008, amended the Lacey Act by expanding its protection to a broader range of plants and plant products. The Lacey Act now, among other things, makes it unlawful, beginning December 15, 2008, to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration. This page will serve as a clearinghouse for all information related to the implementation of the Lacey Act declaration requirement and will be updated promptly as new information becomes available.

What do you think?

What is YOUR take?

  • Is the declaration paperwork all that is required to avoid arrest?
  • Or does the law kick in only when the paperwork is not filled to satisfaction?
  • Do limits exist to the quantity that can be imported?
  • Does the ban apply to “finished” or “partially finished” wood?
I look forward to hearing from you. Please use the Comments section below, or the Contact form available by clicking on my signature line below.

Al Navas


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  1. says

    Every article I have been able to find raises questions that are left unanswered. There are implications that “brokers,” both in the Madagascar ebony instance and the Indian rosewood instance either mislabeled or mis-described the material to contravene laws of those countries. The missing information is who these “brokers” are. Are they citizens of those countries? U.S. citizens? Or, someone in between?

    Which leads to a peculiar aspect of the Lacey Act. Why is it that some poor schmuck in the US can be held responsible for an activity that is illegal in Madagascar, and committed by a Madagascar citizen? Why is it that our own country will prosecute it’s own citizens for something done in another county, against that country’s laws, and by that country’s citizens. If that’s what is actually going on, it sounds like an outrageous law.

    I can certainly appreciate reasonable efforts to protect scarce resources and encourage their renewal. International treaties are sometimes good at this. Treaties and international law that trace infringements to the actual criminal parties and prosecute them in the correct jurisdiction are perfectly fine in my mind. But laws that criminalize “downstream” recipients are simply wrongheaded and tyrannical.

    There’s another bit of information that’s troubling. Gibson is being raided, having its resources stolen (ooops, “seized”), and is being threatened with prosecution for any product it creates using any remaining material it still has. In effect, the Federal government is attempting to shut Gibson down completely. Gibson’s competitors, namely CF Martin, are not seeing the same treatment. We wonder why. Could it be that Martin’s executives contribute to the Democrat party, and that Gibson’s CEO contributed to the GOP in 2008?

    • Al Navas says


      Very interesting perspective you give here! Over at Google+, Karl Caillouet stated:

      “…This begs the question of why this administration is enforcing laws of another country down to a 4mm tolerance, with drawn guns, on US soil, and basically disrupting production and the jobs of one of the few remaining US “manufacturing” companies? (Also makes you wonder if this would have happened to a company that was NOT operating in a “right to work” state … if you have evidence to the contrary, cite please)…”

      And he also gave a link to the search warrant:

      I hope this is resolved in some way. And I also hope that Gibson and its implicated employees are exonerated, for obvious reasons. I would hate to see any U.S. citizen indicted for violating what appears to be a one-sided, (mostly?) political issue.

    • says

      Bob, Lacey is driven by “whistle blowers”. Often times the tips the raiders get are from anonymous tipsters and one can only guess that competitors would be interested in these tips getting to the DOJ.

  2. says

    Al, yes everyone in the supply chain is liable and responsible for adhering to Lacey Act regulations. The fact is that due to highly vague wording, ignorance of source can actually protect you. “Due Diligence” is the term the law states for understanding where your lumber comes from. How the individual chooses to perform that due diligence is up to them. Simply asking your lumber dealer “where did this Mahogany come from?” is enough even if the dealer then responds with “I don’t know”. You did your diligence and your safe. It is a frustrating topic because it actually fosters buyers not investigating further. Moreover, buying certified woods by FSC or CITES documented species doesn’t seem to keep you safe as we are seeing with Gibson now. In reality I don’t think the DOJ is targeting the average Joe woodworker…yet.

    I wrote a post about Lacey on my company blog at that you might find interesting.

    • Al Navas says

      Thanks for the information, and for the link to the terrific article you wrote, Shannon! This is the kind of valuable information I like to share with our readers, to bring it out into the open.