Saturday, October 8, 2011

Gibson Guitar renews effort for return of ebony

Attorneys for Gibson Guitar renewed their request in federal court Friday for the return of $70,000 worth of ebony wood seized from the company’s Nashville plant two years ago.

The latest legal petition comes in the midst of an ongoing U.S. investigation into the company’s international wood deals that began in 2009 and has resulted in two separate raids on the company, a possible criminal probe and the transformation of one of the world’s oldest guitar companies into a cause célèbre for conservative activists.

A coalition of tea party groups and musicians has organized a pro-Gibson rally today in a restaurant parking lot near Opryland.

On Friday, Gibson attorneys sought to reopen a case closed on Sept. 28, when U.S. District Judge William Haynes Jr. — at the request of federal prosecutors — put on hold a dispute over the fate of the seized ebony, which was harvested in Madagascar, while a potential criminal investigation was under way.

Gibson lawyers asked the judge to reconsider.

Since the raid, “Gibson has diligently sought both the return of its property and some measure of accountability from the Government for its actions – actions that Gibson believes were without a valid legal predicate,” the request said. “Gibson has cooperated with the Government in its investigation and has given the Government all of the information it has requested. Gibson seeks only justice in return.”

Attorneys for Gibson and for the U.S. Attorney’s office were not immediately available for comment.

A separate federal case is ongoing concerning rosewood from India seized by federal agents on Aug. 24. In both raids on Gibson — in 2009 and in August — federal prosecutors alleged the company violated the Lacey Act, a U.S. environmental protection law that bars companies from importing protected woods and woods barred for export in their countries of origin.

Gibson CEO Henry Juszkiewicz has strongly denied the allegations in both cases.