The Heritage Foundation has been writing about the problems that Gibson Guitar has faced for a long while now. Sadly, Gibson has bowed out of the fight due to bullying by Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutors.
Gibson has been strong-armed into paying a $300,000 fine and a $50,000 community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and it has forfeited $260,000 in seizures of wood deemed to be not compliant with foreign labor laws.
This is not a criticism of Gibson Guitar. It has been the victim of egregious overcriminalization and was forced to do what makes the most sense for its business and employees.
As we have noted in other blog posts, the Lacey Act allows prosecutors to go after U.S. citizens and businesses for violating foreign laws, no matter how remote. Gibson was being investigated by the DOJ because the wood it used in manufacturing its guitars was not finished in India, as required by Indian labor laws.
There has been overwhelming support for Gibson and pushback against the DOJ’s outrageous prosecution. This agreement is the result of the public outrage that came about because of the work of the overcriminalization coalition and certain Members of Congress. Members of Congress recently introduced the FOCUS Act and the RELIEF Act, which would have undone the part of the Lacey Act under which Gibson was being prosecuted. The DOJ was worn down by the negative media barrage it received for this case.
Although nobody went to prison and the penalties Gibson suffered were less severe than they could have been, this does not mean that all is well. The fact that the DOJ could leverage the unreasonable penalties of the Lacey Act to bully Gibson into making a large “donation” to their charity pick of the week is a travesty in itself.
Further, the resolution of this case does nothing to prevent future injustices. Other American companies and individuals are still at risk of DOJ prosecution for violations of obscure foreign laws that they could not reasonably be expected to know.
The government is most likely banking on this story going away so that the wave of opposition to the Lacey Act dies down. It would be unsurprising if the DOJ returns to arbitrarily prosecuting Americans for violating little-known foreign laws. The next victim of the Lacey Act may not have the resources to combat it the way Gibson did. It is up to Congress to continue its work to remedy this problem, even though this story will no longer be in the news cycle.