Federal agents last week stormed the Gibson Guitar factories in the Tennessee cities of Nashville and Memphis, confiscating pallets of exotic woods, computer equipment and several guitars.
The raids were part of an ongoing investigation into Gibson’s procurement of the materials it uses to construct its iconic instruments, which includes the Les Paul, the best-selling guitar of all time.
Henry Juszkiewicz, Gibson chief executive, said the justice department was misguided and that his company was fully compliant with all US and international laws.
“Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of any wrongdoing,” he said. “We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.”
The US Department of Justice, which conducted the raids, declined to comment.
But in an affidavit used to obtain the search warrants, US Fish and Wildlife Service agent John Rayfield said the investigation began after a shipment of Indian ebony was detained by customs officers in Dallas, Texas, in June.
According to the affidavit, the ebony included in the shipment was illegal under a US law that bars the transport or sale of endangered woods and plants.
The shipment also misidentified the final destination for the woods, failing to name Gibson as the buyer.
No criminal charges have been filed.
Mr Juszkiewicz said Gibson, a private company with less than $500m in annual sales, was struggling to continue operating.
“We’re trying to get back up in those areas where we can,” he said. “We had the seizure of raw materials and it will take us some time to replace them. They hit all our factories.”
He also said that the 107-year-old company works closely with suppliers and advocacy groups to procure sustainable materials.
In recent years, Gibson has hired 600 new workers as the US economy struggled to add jobs.
This is the second time that Gibson factories have been raided. In 2009, the company was investigated for allegedly using illegally imported woods from Madagascar but no criminal charges were pursued.
Mr Juszkiewicz said he believed the justice department might be interpreting an Indian law to suggest that Indian wood must be finished in India.
But he added that the confiscated wood was certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which works to protect threatened woodlands.
Some in the industry said it appeared that Gibson was being singled out.
Gulab Gidwani, president of Exotic Woods Company, which supplies woods to Gibson and other guitar makers, said: “There’s nothing unusual about what Gibson imports.”
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