After years maintaining innocence, Nashville-based Gibson Guitar has entered a settlement to avoid criminal charges related to the conservation law known as the Lacey Act. The company was accused of illegally importing ebony and rosewood for its iconic electric guitars.
The Justice Department says Gibson discovered it was violating the laws of Madagascar when it imported ebony wood for its fingerboards. But according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife investigation, Gibson failed to act.
Under the Lacey Act, a violation of law where the wood is harvest also becomes a violation of U.S. law.
Gibson will pay a penalty of $300,000 and another $50,000 that will go the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to promote conservation of trees used in musical instruments.
As part of the agreement, Gibson will also lose wood that was seized from its factories in Nashville and Memphis worth more than $260,000.
The Justice Department says in a press release that Gibson’s cooperation will free the company of any criminal prosecution.
A year ago, Gibson’s factories were being raided for the second time since 2009. The intrusion by federal agents flipped a switch with CEO Henry Juszkiewicz, who went on the offensive, hiring a Washington lobbying firm and making regular media appearances. He said his company was being targeted and bullied.
“I do know that other companies are using exactly the same materials that we are, and they have not had so much as a post card in the mail.”
Gibson has not made a statement following the Justice Department settlement. But the government says Gibson “has acknowledged that it failed to act on information” that ebony it was getting from Madagascar might have violated laws intended to limit overharvesting.
The agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s office explains in some detail the case against Gibson’s operation in Madagascar. It does not explain the allegations around Indian rosewood, which was also confiscated during the raids.
Gibson was never formally charged, which was part of the company’s complaint against the government. Here is the settlement letter that lays out the potential case as well as what Gibson has agreed to do in order to avoid charges.