Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz addresses the media in Nashville. Photo by Andy Ellis
“We’re not in the wrong,” Juszkiewicz said to reporters on the steps of the company’s Gibson USA facility on Massman Drive in Nashville. “We haven’t actually been charged with any wrongdoing.” The company simultaneously issued a press release stating that it will fight aggressively to prove its innocence.
The company is involved in two investigations concerning the Lacey Act. At issue is the legality of some of the wood the company uses to make guitars. Ebony from the Republic of Madagascar was seized in a 2009 raid, and Indian rosewood was seized yesterday.
“The Lacey Act is very recent,” Juszkiewicz said. “That law was passed two years ago. So it’s not like that law has been around for a long, long time. But according to this law, if you bought a guitar from us and we sell it, you are criminally liable. You, not us. Everyone who touches the product, the store owner who sells that guitar, is criminally liable.”
The Lacey Act was originally signed into law in 1900. It serves to protect plants and wildlife through a series of penalties for buying, trafficking, and possessing certain species. It’s assumed that Juszkiewicz was referring to a recent amendment to the law, enacted via the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, that has many luthiers crying foul. Some interpretations suggest that it is poorly written and would even prohibit most guitarists from traveling overseas with their existing guitars if taken seriously.
According to Juszkiewicz, Gibson has sworn statements and paperwork from the Republic of Madagascar on file in federal court declaring that the ebony seized in 2009 was legally obtained. Juszkiewicz added that the rosewood seized in yesterday’s raids is in compliance with standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council, which is a non-government organization dedicated to promoting environmentally conscious forest management practices.
“The Justice Department’s position is that any guitar that we ship out of this facility is potentially [an] obstruction of justice and to be followed with criminal charges because we bought product from India,” Juszkiewicz said. However, Gibson employees returned to work today—a move he said he is personally responsible for.
“I’ve instructed our staff to continue building the product,” he said in response to a reporter’s question about Gibson’s compliance with the government following yesterday’s raids. “I’ve taken personal responsibility for that action,” he said.
Juszkiewicz’s frustration was apparent. “We feel totally abused,” he said. “We believe the arrogance of federal power is impacting me personally, our company personally, and the employees in Tennessee—and it’s just plain wrong."
Currently, a government lawsuit against the company has put the items seized in the 2009 raid in legal limbo while raising question of whether serious charges could be brought against Gibson, Juszkiewicz, and others in the company. The government claims the materials are contraband, but Gibson disagrees and wants them back. In a trial that resumes Monday, the government is weighing whether or not separate criminal charges should be filed. The judge has been asked to temporarily suspend the forfeiture trial until a decision is made.
Premier Guitar will bring you more on this story as it develops.