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VOL. 126 | NO. 184 | Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Feds Still Mum on Reason for Gibson Raids

By Andy Meek

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Federal officials have shed a little light on last month’s raid of Gibson Guitar Corp. facilities in Memphis and Nashville – without really revealing much at all.

In a letter dated Monday, Sept. 19, Christopher Mansour, the director of congressional and legislative affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior, and Ronald Weich, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, wrote to congressional leaders in broad terms about the federal Lacey Act. That’s the legislation that provided the backdrop of the Gibson raids.

Their letter was in response to a letter sent by congressional leaders, including U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., requesting details about the raids. In it, they declined to provide specific details about the raid because of an ongoing investigation into Gibson, but they spoke to some general facts about the matter.

“By prohibiting trafficking in wood illegally harvested overseas, the Lacey Act prohibits companies from undercutting law-abiding U.S. wood-product companies, including numerous small businesses, by trading in artificially inexpensive raw materials that have been illegally harvested from foreign forests,” the two federal officials wrote. “The Lacey Act provides the federal government with an important tool to ensure that all businesses, including foreign companies that send their goods into this country, are operating on a level playing field by using only legally harvested wood.”

The officials went on to say the federal agents’ search for evidence at Gibson began with authorization from a U.S. magistrate judge, who signed off on the raids. And because law enforcement agents are required to carry side arms for their own protection when executing warrants, they said that explains the presence of armed agents during the raids.

Federal agents executed four search warrants at Gibson facilities in Memphis and Nashville around 8:45 a.m. Aug. 24. They seized several pallets of wood, electronic files and guitars. Both the company and its supporters have criticized several aspects of the raid – including the presence of armed agents – as indicative of government overreach.

Blackburn touched on that same theme in a statement she released in response to the Sept. 19 letter.

"I am frustrated by the administration’s refusal to brief me and our committee with real answers," Blackburn said. “Specifically, why did they send armed agents into Gibson's facilities? It is beyond me why not once, but twice, the administration felt the need to act like a bunch of cowboys, when I am sure a letter like this or a simple phone call stating their concerns to Gibson's leaders would have prompted a very cooperative response.”

Meanwhile, Gibson and supporters are stepping up a public-relations campaign that began almost in the immediate aftermath of the raids, via everything from a Twitter #thiswillnotstand hashtag to a flurry of media interviews by Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz.

As of mid-day Tuesday, the company was closing in on 20,000 signatures for a petition it plans to deliver to the White House asking for the government to drop its criminal investigation of the company.

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