- Company does not admit to wrongdoing
- Withdraws claim to wood seized in August 2011
- Penalty goes to National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
Guitar-maker Gibson Guitar Corp. has agreed to pay $350,000 to avoid U.S. prosecution over allegations it illegally imported endangered wood from India and Madagascar, U.S. officials announced Monday.
"Gibson has acknowledged that it failed to act on information that the Madagascar ebony it was purchasing may have violated laws intended to limit over-harvesting and conserve valuable wood species," Assistant Attorney General Ignacia Moreno said in a statement.
The company also imported rosewood and ebony from India in a potential violation of the U.S. Lacey Act, which protects endangered foreign wood species, the statement from the Justice Department alleged.
Gibson must pay a penalty of $300,000 and an additional $50,000 "community service payment" to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to be used to promote the conservation of protected tree species, it said.
The company will also withdraw claims to wood, including Madagascar ebony, seized by the government in August 2011. The wood came in a shipment "with a total invoice value of $261,844," the Justice Department said.
Gibson did not admit wrongdoing on its website, saying it had agreed to the settlement to avoid the legal costs associated with going to trial.
"We felt compelled to settle as the costs of proving our case at trial would have cost millions of dollars and taken a very long time to resolve," CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said in a statement.
"We are getting back the materials seized in a second armed raid on our factories, and we have formal acknowledgement that we can continue to source rosewood and ebony fingerboards from India, as we have done for many decades."
Makers of the legendary Les Paul guitar, Gibson became a cause celebre for U.S. Tea Party activists after wildlife conservation agents raided two of its plants in Tennessee and took away several pallets of Indian ebony.
The firm was never formally charged, but Juszkiewicz alleged Gibson had been unfairly targeted, while globe-traveling guitarists feared their instruments might be seized at customs due to the exotic wood used to make them.
In one interview with CNN, Juszkiewicz went so far as to suggest that First Lady Michelle Obama may have broken the law when she took a Gibson guitar out of the United States to present to her French counterpart Carla Bruni.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2012