Last August, the federal government raided a Gibson Guitar factory and confiscated property worth at least $500,000. What had Gibson Guitars done wrong? They had imported wood from India and failed to follow every “jot and tittle” of the regulatory law … not of the United States, but of India.
Apparently, Gibson used an inappropriate tariff code on the wood. According to Reason.tv, “At issue is not whether the wood in question was endangered, but whether the wood was the correct level of thickness and finish before being exported from India.” In other words, Gibson’s violation had nothing to do with forest preservation.
Thanks to a bureaucratic U.S. law called The Lacey Act, Gibson and other importers can be criminally prosecuted by the U.S. government for violations not only of U.S. regulatory law, but also for violations of other countries’ regulatory laws. The Indian government didn’t see a reason to penalize Gibson — but Gibson’s own government did.
The Lacey Act was originally passed in the early 1900s to prevent illegal trafficking of endangered fish and wildlife, but expanded to include plant life and international trade. Over the years, it was repeatedly amended and became increasingly broader and vaguer. In the process, it turned into a perfect example of the way overregulation leads to overcriminalization.
Reason.tv recently checked in with Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz to see how the case has progressed. Turns out, the DOJ has filed no charges. That means Gibson hasn’t had its day in court to defend itself — and the government still has all that confiscated property.