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A Clear Overreach': Gibson CEO Blasts Justice Department

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"...there's a very real possibility we will have to move at least some processing [jobs] overseas."

Gibson Guitar Corp.'s chief slammed the U.S. government on Wednesday for sending armed agents to raid two Tennessee factories under a law aimed at curbing the illegal harvest of tropical hardwoods, reports Reuters.

"Armed people came in our factory ... evacuated our employees, then seized half a million dollars of our goods without any charges having been filed," Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz told reporters and others at a Washington lunch.

"I think it's a clear overreach," he said.

Government agents seized a total of over $1 million worth of rosewood, ebony and finished guitars from Gibson factories in Memphis and Nashville in raids in 2009 and August of this year, Juszkiewicz told Reuters.

Gibson's factories remain open "under great difficulty" because the raids took most of the company's raw materials, the CEO said. In a Capitol Hill forum Wednesday, Juszkiewicz told Republican lawmakers the raids have so far cost the company more than $3 million in legal fees and manufacturing disruptions.

The price of their products will likely go up because of the financial hit they have taken.

Furthermore, the CEO cautioned that American jobs could sent overseas as a result of the federal harassment.

“You know, there’s a very real possibility we will have to move at least some processing [jobs] overseas,” the Daily Caller reports Juszkiewicz saying. “I’m trying to avoid that. But you know, I have to do what the business requires, and that’s a very realistic possibility.”

The U.S. Justice Department declined on Wednesday to comment on the case but provided information on the Lacey Act, which aims to curb trafficking in wildlife, fish and plant products, including illegally obtained timber.

"By prohibiting trafficking in wood illegally harvested overseas, the Lacey Act prohibits companies from undercutting law-abiding U.S. wood products companies ... by trading in artificially inexpensive raw materials that have been illegally harvested from foreign forests," Justice and Interior department officials wrote in a letter.

Gibson Guitar uses a small fraction of the world's tropical hardwoods, compared to that used for furniture and flooring, and because it uses so little it can use it sustainably, Juszkiewicz said.

"The issue here is not illegal logging or some conservation abuse," he said. "The laws that are being identified by the Department of Justice have to do with protectionism by the country of origin, keeping work in that country and therefore not allowing something that isn't that value-added to be exported."

Gibson has filed suit in federal court in Nashville to recover the seized material, but that suit has been stayed while the investigation continues, reports Reuters.

Furthermore,  the guitar manufacturer has hired a Washington law firm to lobby on its behalf.

The Tennessean reports that Crowley & Morley LLP will lobby against the Lacey Act, which federal officials are investigating Gibson of violating.

Gibson's chief said the law should be changed.

"I believe in the intent of the law ... but I do believe that the way it's currently written allows what's happening to me to happen to other companies, and that's wrong," he said.

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