Gibson Guitars CEO Talks Government Overreach, Tea Party

Gibson Guitar Corp., the company that makes the renown Les Paul electric guitar, was raided by the Justice Department for allegedly importing wood in violation of the law. Though the company has never been active in Republican politics before, it has become of symbol of Washington excess for Republicans and the Tea Party Movement which seeks to reign in the power of the federal government.

Federal marshals raided the Gibson factory on Aug. 24 to investigate whether Gibson was using wood it had obtained illegally in the manufacture of its guitars. The law in question, the Lacey Act, says that manufactures cannot import environmentally endangered plants or animals that were harvested or collected illegally.

In an interview with The Christian Post, Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Gibson, talks about the raid and what it has been like for him to become a hero of the Tea Party Movement.

CP: Under the Lacey Act, it is your company's responsibility to ensure that the wood you use was obtained legally. What does your company do to ensure that your wood was obtained legally?

Juszkiewicz: We are obtaining the highest level of Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) approval that we can. To me, the only way to insure the integrity of your wood source is to have an independent third party audit your wood and your procurement. The highest standard is the FSC.

CP: What if you've done everything you could to ensure the integrity of your wood, but there was still an illegal transaction somewhere in the supply chain that you were unaware of?

Juszkiewicz: A person does not have to have intent or knowledge of wrongdoing to be guilty. I may not have intended to do anything wrong. I have no knowledge that there was any wrongdoing involved. There could have been wrongdoing, for example, three transactions before I ever got to it.

Every party in the economic chain is complicity guilty. For example the consumer that buys that guitar from me is guilty and can have criminal charges brought against them.

The legal principle in the law is called “due care.” Due care means that you need to have taken the appropriate care to ensure that what you've done is not wrong. You didn't know is not an excuse, you had no intent is not an excuse.

CP: Do you think the Lacey Act should be abolished or modified?

Juszkiewicz: We have been active in conservation and environmental causes. There are a lot of issues in wood supply, particularly in developing countries. There is a lot of corruption, there is a lot of illegal stuff happening involving poor people in very difficult political situations.

It is going to take government action, such as the Lacey Act, to make the situation better. I am absolutely a fan of the Lacey Act and what it can accomplish.

However, I do believe that, if you're gonna make a law that has really Draconian penalties, then you really have to tell the people that have to comply with the law what it is they specifically have to do to comply with it. Otherwise, it is a matter of opinion and that means that it can be abused.

Yes, I would like to see the law continue, but I would like to amend it and make it much more specific as to what needs to be done; to clarify what needs to be done to comply.

CP: One of your criticisms is how the raid was conducted. You said it was a “SWAT team.” When I hear “SWAT team,” I think of guys in bullet proof vests with automatic rifles. Is that what we're talking about?

Juszkiewicz: That is exactly what we're talking about. It was like a drug bust – pretty bizarre. Totally inappropriate.

There is a time when you have to do that – drug busts, for instance. I understand that. But, c'mon, not a guitar factory. Jeez, we're not armed.

The government's contention is that the wrong tariff code was used in importing that wood. Even though that tariff code has been used for 17 years and has been approved by the Indian government, they're saying, 'no, a different tariff code needs to be used.'

If the different tariff code is right, it's illegal. Well that's really a tariff code issue, right? It's a import/export documentation issue. There is no criminal issue here. There is no deception. There is a paperwork issue. Is a paperwork issue something that should trigger a SWAT team with automatic weapons?

They confiscated a half a million dollars of our product, closed our factory, and put our business at risk. It's totally inappropriate.

Even if they're correct, which I don't believe they are, but say they are, that is a totally inappropriate use of force. There are other ways of dealing with that, and secondly, they have corrupted a law that is intended to protect the environment and wood and are using it now for different purposes. It's really not fair.

CP: Is it true that your company has worked with Greenpeace (an environmentalist advocacy organization) before?

Juszkiewicz: We worked with Greenpeace. I've been on the board of Rainforest Alliance. We've worked with the Forest Stewardship Council, National Resources Defense Council, and other conservation organizations. We have a history of being active in that area, and trying to be leaders in responsible sourcing.

CP: Since the federal raid, your company has become a symbol of government excess and overreach for many conservatives and Tea Party supporters. Are you comfortable with being a symbol of the Tea Party?

Juszkiewicz: How can I be uncomfortable with people that are supporting us and friendly to us. That is not to say I've turned into a Tea Party member or I endorse that thought process in contrast to somebody who may be a liberal Democrat.

Fact is, we have many liberal Democrats that support us also, and I embrace them and appreciate the fact that they have compassion for our position.

It makes sense, though. Conservatives, Tea Party members are more focused on governmental abuse and overreach. That's more in line with their political philosophy and, so, of course they would gravitate to that issue.

I see nothing wrong with that and again they're being compassionate with us. Anybody who is friendly to us is welcome, anybody, on both sides of the aisle.

CP: Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Juszkiewicz: I wish this was over.

The worst part is I've had to resort to public outcry to get some sort of satisfaction for what I believe is a legitimate grievance. I believe the government overreached using hostile tactics that are totally inappropriate and injurious to our business.

As we speak I haven't been charged with anything. The company hasn't been charged with anything. No one has proven that we've done anything wrong, and yet, we've suffered millions of dollars of loss that will never be recovered. There is something really unfair and wrong with that.

Our only avenue is to try to get visibility to the issue and appeal for public support, which hopefully will put pressure and motivate the legislative arm to try to help us and get a fair outcome.