Compliance in the Supply Chain – The Lesson of Gibson Guitar and the Lacey Act


I thought about the Astros futility when reading about the Criminal Enforcement Agreement (CEA) entered into by Gibson Guitar Corp (Gibson) for violations of the Lacey Act, which is a 111-year-old law, originally enacted to protect wildlife and expanded in 2008 to cover wood products. I say futility because as recently as a couple of weeks ago, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Gibson, Henry Juszkiewicz, wrote in a piece appearing in the July 20, 2012 edition of the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), entitled “Gibson’s Fight Against Criminalizing Capitalism”, that on August 24, 2011, “Without warning, 30 federal agents with guns and bulletproof vests stormed our guitar factories in Tennessee. They shut down production, sent workers home, seized boxes of raw materials and nearly 100 guitars, and ultimately cost our company $2 million to $3 million worth of products and lost productivity.” Two weeks later, his company admitted to violations of the same federal law that he protested did not apply to his company. In addition to the cost of non-compliance laid out by Juszkiewicz in the article, Gibson agreed to a CEA, a penalty in the amount of $300,000 and a community service payment of $50,000. It also agreed to a withdraw claims for wood seized by federal agents in the course of the criminal investigation, specifically “including Madagascar ebony from shipments with a total invoice value of $261,844.”

So what’s the compliance lesson here? First and foremost, understand the laws that apply to you and put a system in place to comply with those laws. It does no good to claim that if you are investigated it’s “an attack on capitalism”. On the other hand, if your company does feel that it has been prosecuted by the “overreach of government authority” and you are indeed being picked on by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Fish and Wildlife Service, you can always go to court to assert your innocence. Of course, to successfully assert innocence it really helps to be innocent.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Thomas Fox, Compliance Evangelist | Attorney Advertising

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