Thugocracy: The Story of Gibson Guitar and Their Extortionists

I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that the higher-ups in Gibson Guitars, the famous guitar manufacturer that brought us the Les Paul and other top-quality guitars, will not be going to jail. The bad news is they have been hit with a hefty fine, their materials have been seized, and  the intended message sent by the government has been received by the famed guitar manufacturer: Play ball with us- or else!

As reported earlier, Gibson has been the victim of not one, but two raids in the past few years by the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and the fine, jack-booted folks at the Department of Homeland Security. Under flimsy pretenses, the stormtroopers seized upon the manufacturing facility to confiscate wood used to make the fretboards, computers and files. The company was, essentially, shut down and forced to regroup in the wake of having much of their business seized. The company estimates that the raid cost them $2 million to $3 million.

Almost immediately, the raids did not seem right. The first raid, in 2009, seized mahogany that had been imported from Madagascar. The Feds cited a recent extension of the Lacey Act, an obscure 100 year old conservation law that, in short, regulates the importation of exotic plants and wildlife and aims to keep imports consistent with the laws of the countries exporting the plants or wildlife. However, Madagascar claimed the wood was legal to export. Regardless, the Feds seized the wood.

Fast forward to 2011, and the same thing happened again. This time, they seized rosewood that had been imported from India. Again, the Indian government claimed that there was no violation. The wood was seized anyway.

The federal government has stated that the importation of the fretboards as a finished product would be legal, but not the wood to make the fretboards. However, the guitar manufacturer has claimed that they imported the materials legally, and take pride in the guitars being made in America by American workers. In Obama’s world, however, turning a profit through industry is frowned upon.

If that weren’t enough, it seems the true motives behind the raids were likely political. Gibson makes their guitars out of the same materials other high-end manufacturers use for their guitars. However, Gibson seems to be the only one singled out- twice. Gibson’s CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, is a Republican and has given quite a bit of money to Republican campaigns over the years. Gibson’s main competitor, C.F. Martin & Company, is headed by Chris Martin IV, a strong Democratic supporter who has given generously to Democratic campaigns over the years. C.F. Martin’s catalog offers numerous guitars made with “eastern Indian rosewood”, the same wood that was seized from Gibson. Yet, Gibson was the only guitar manufacturer raided.

After several years of litigation and dealing with the hell-on-Earth that is American bureaucracy, Gibson finally relented and opted to pay the fine, forfeit the materials and get back to work. They were ordered to pay a $300,000 fine, forced to make a “donation” of $50,000 to a conservation fund and forfeit their wood. After successfully extorting the company, United States Attorney Jerry Martin gloated by saying,

“This criminal enforcement agreement goes a long way in demonstrating the government’s commitment to protecting the world’s natural resources.”

The only thing missing from the statement was, “Let this be a lesson to the rest of you…”

I am certainly saddened to see the “bad guy” win, but the company was put under tremendous financial strain by the weight of a tyrannous government. I commend Gibson for speaking out on several occasions, highlighting the intention of the raids and putting up a pretty good fight. While I am sorry to see the thugs win this one, I am glad to see that Gibson is putting Americans back to work, and for what it’s worth, in the future, I’ll be sure to make any guitars I buy a Gibson, both for the superior quality and the fact that I believe in the company. I encourage any guitar aficionados to consider doing likewise as well.

This is just another example of the strong-arming thuggery we are seeing in Obama’s America. These stories are becoming far too frequent. Let us remember these examples as November draws closer and send a message that we are through being bullied!



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4 Responses to Thugocracy: The Story of Gibson Guitar and Their Extortionists

  1. Joanne says:

    If I were Gibson I would fine a discrimination suit stating that other leading companies use this woods that they confiscated and this is a political in nature.
    I would lock my doors in the morning after the last employee enters and not open them but to let them leave. The Government will have hard time to get in to raid them.

  2. Lemrob says:

    Gibson should file suit against the DOJ-Holder and Obama. Unauthorized search and siezure.

  3. P Ang says:

    I think someone should post about the competitor on HuffPo and get their fanatics all riled up about protecting the environment…”Gibson paid its fines but C.F. Martin’s been raping da Erf, let’s form a class-action lawsuit!”
    It’s exactly the same as the GM dealership closures though, where successful Republican dealerships were forced to close and failing Sociali…er Democratic party donors were allowed to remain open. Blatant criminal acts back then didn’t get penalized, I feel sorry for anyone the regime sends their Chicago mafia judges after.

  4. AC Points says:

    The wood imported form Madagascar was ebony not mahogany, and it has been banned for export in rough form (for which the fingerboard blanks were classified) since 2006.

    Nobody from homeland security took part in the raids (jackbooted or otherwise). Stormtroopers? I guess thats a bit of editorial license. It was just Fish and Wildlife agents in their normal attire (and yes they are required to carry sidearms when on duty).

    The Indian wood that was confiscated is being returned to Gibson. Of course here’s where some of the gray area exists. Basically the same parts, fingerboard blanks, are classified as unfinished parts and not exportable by Madagascar and are classified as finished parts and exportable by India.

    Apparently you haven’t read the search warrant affidavit. For the Indian shipment that was the primary focus of the second raid, the documentation lists several different companies and destination as the owner and final consignee – none of them Gibson. The Lacey act declaration is the only document that lists Gibson as the consignee. The import documentation lists a different part code than the Indian export documentation. The import code they list is a legal code even though it doesn’t match but accompanying documentation lists illegal dimensions. In the process of investigation, the investigating agent went back through prior shipments and found 11 cases where Gibson had actually listed a product code that is illegal to import from India.

    This certainly could make a case for probable cause based on the suspicious looking documentation. I think what it boils down to though is shoddy and unprofessional documentation by Gibson not any attempt to do something illegal. Why is Gibson’s documentation so poor when other manufacturers seem to get it right? I think its the high turnover of employees at Gibson (note current class action lawsuit by employees against Gibson as an example). I suspect they had some very inexperienced employees trying to do this import work.

    I had to chuckle at “thugacracy”. I think if you asked US guitar manufacturers and retailers who to apply the word “thug” to in their business they would say Gibson. Check out Gibson’s repeated attempts to sue/bully PRS a smaller American guitar manufacturer. Or their lawsuit against Activision or Elderly Instruments. As far as I know PRS makes all their guitars in the US, unlike Gibson who makes the bulk of their instruments in Asia and Eastern Europe. They only make the Gibson brand and a few other select models in the US. And back in 2008 they also moved the bulk of their remaining US piano manufacturing to Asia as well.

    BTW, according to the Federal Election Commission website, in the 10 years prior to the raids, people associated with Gibson (basically Henry J and his wife) made $9100 in direct political donations to Republican candidates. During that same period they made $3500 in donations to Democratic candidates.

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