Two days ago in Nashville, TN, armed federal agents raided a Gibson guitar factory in the course of the execution of a search warrant. What were the feds looking for — drugs? Illegal workers? Nope.
According to the world-famous luthiers, the raid (which resulted in factory shutdowns in Nashville and Memphis) led to the seizure of “several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. ” You see, the wood was imported from India, but was not finished by Indian workers. Instead, Gibson workers were expected to finish the wood, and that’s a violation of the law. No, not American law, silly — an Indian law. Except there have been no complaints from India. According to Gibson, “This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”
But you see, someone at DoJ has decided that Gibson’s actions violate the DoJ’s interpretation of the Indian law, and that theoretically puts Gibson in violation of something called the Lacey Act, which “prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold.” Specifically, we’re told, this 111-year-old law “makes it unlawful to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant in violation of the laws of the United States, a State, an Indian tribe, or any foreign law that protects plants.” As it happens, ignorance of the [hypothetically] violated foreign law is no excuse, and neither is the guitar company’s purchase of the wood in accordance with standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council. Heck, Gibson has even worked with Greenpeace on its wood-sourcing needs. But Bureaucratus locuta est: Send in the SWAT team.
So let’s review. An internationally respected musical instrument maker, with a history of commitment to environmental responsibility and fair trade, may be in violation of another country’s law about who can finish a piece of wood, and although that other country hasn’t made that claim, a U.S. civil service hack decides to call in the stormtroopers. At least we know this is a one-shot aberration, right?
Guess again. Gibson reports that this is very similar to a 2009 raid that resulted in the seizure of ebony fingerboards from Madagascar, and guitars with said fingerboards. No criminal charges have been filed, and Gibson has documents from Madagascar’s officials stating that no laws were broken there. DoJ is attempting to prevent Gibson’s civil action to recover its property.
Well, obviously this is just some rogue functionary at work, right? I’m not so sure. Imagine you’re a GS-13 somewhere. Don’t you occasionally feel the need to do something, and thereby justify your salary (+ geographic adjustment)? This is what these people are paid to do. And we’re paying for it.
In this case, the song may have ended, but the malady lingers on.
H/T: Robbie Rist (yes, “Cousin Oliver“) on Facebook.