Gibson Guitar Corporation entered a settlement deal with the Department of Justice today, thus ending a criminal investigation as to the legality of their imported woods under the Lacey Act. Gibson agreed to pay a $300,000 penalty, and a $50,000 community service payment to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation. Gibson also agreed to forfeit claims to the ebony fretboards seized during an August 2011 raid, valued at $261,844.
According to the DOJ press release:
“As a result of this investigation and criminal enforcement agreement, Gibson has acknowledged that it failed to act on information that the Madagascar ebony it was purchasing may have violated laws intended to limit overharvesting and conserve valuable wood species from Madagascar, a country which has been severely impacted by deforestation,” said Assistant Attorney General Moreno.
Moreno’s mention of deforestation and conservation only serves to fluff up the DOJ charges against Gibson Guitar, since the point of contention was not that the ebony was illegally acquired in Madagascar, but the fretboard blanks were considered “unfinished.” A 2006 Madagascar law prohibits the export of “unfinished” wood.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Gibson CEO Henry E. Juszkiewicz maintains his position that Gibson imported the products legally, but agreed to the settlement to resume imports from Madagascar and India, which had been ceased after the raid.
In the Department of Justice press release, US Attorney Jerry Martin stated, ”The Department of Justice is committed to enforcing the laws enacted by Congress.” Interesting how that applies to the interpretation of foreign law as it pertains to wood, but not illegal immigration in the United States.
Further reading: Making Illegal Music