The Lacey Act: Could Mrs. Obama be in trouble? |

The Lacey Act: Could Mrs. Obama be in trouble?

William Hamilton / Central View
Grand County, CO Colorado

Michelle Obama may have unwittingly violated The Lacey Act of 1900, as amended in 2008. You see, on Aug. 30, Mrs. Obama presented France’s first lady, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, with a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar that has a rosewood fret board.

So, what’s The Lacey Act of 1900? Named after Iowa Congressman John F. Lacey, the Act prohibits interstate trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported, or sold. In 2008, the Act was amended to include illegally sourced timber and wood products. Therefore, if the rosewood fret board on that Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar violates the Act, as amended, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) might want to look into Mrs. Obama’s gift to the French first lady.

Apparently, some White House or State Department staffer learned the former high-fashion model, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, is also a professional singer and songwriter. She accompanies herself by playing the guitar. So, at U.S. taxpayer expense, the French first lady was given a Gibson guitar. While the gesture was thoughtful, it may have put Mrs. Obama and the American taxpayer in violation of The Lacey Act.

But surely, the DOJ has more important matters to attend to than chasing after people or corporations who might be dealing in supposedly, illegally sourced rosewood fret boards. Actually, The Lacey Act seems to be of great concern to the Obama DOJ. In fact, if you own a Gibson guitar with an illegally sourced rosewood fret board, heavily-armed agents of the DOJ might search your premises looking for guitar parts that might have entered the United States, not in violation of U.S. law, but in violation of the laws of India or Madagascar.

According to The Wall Street Journal, owning a guitar made out of certain woods could trigger a raid by federal agents, even if a prior owner or manufacturer obtained the guitar years ago. Guitar owners are advised to have complete documentation proving the age of their guitars. On top of confiscation, violations of The Lacey Act can include both criminal and civil penalties.

In August, federal agents raided Gibson guitar plants in Nashville and Memphis, Tenn., looking for illegally sourced wood. In fact, that was the second raid of Gibson’s Nashville facility. In 2009, the DOJ raided Gibson Guitar Inc., looking for rosewood imported from Madagascar. But, according to Gibson chairman and CEO, Henry Juszkiewicz, the company has yet to be charged and the $1 million dollars of confiscated rosewood has not been returned to Gibson.

Gibson filed a civil suit asking for the return of its property which, according to legal documents filed by the Government of Madagascar, was obtained legally. Given these last two raids in 2011, one might think the DOJ is trying to put Gibson Guitar out of business. Of course, Gibson does have the option of moving its entire operation overseas. Apparently, the DOJ missed the White House memo about the need to keep American jobs in America.

But the DOJ contends the rosewood in question was imported from India without first being “finished” by Indian workers – a violation of Indian law. Why is the DOJ enforcing Indian or Madagascar Law inside the USA? In 2008, the left-wing environmental groups and labor unions pushed the timber and wood product amendments to the Lacey Act through the Democrat-controlled Congress – the same organizations that helped Mr. Obama to the Oval Office later that year.

If Mrs. Obama “knowingly” violated The Lacey Act, she could be subject to a $250,000 fine and up to five years in prison. If she “unknowingly” violated The Lacey Act, the penalties are reduced to $100,000 and one year in prison.

But don’t hold your breath waiting for the Obama DOJ to apprehend Mrs. Obama or ask France to return the Gibson Hummingbird. Gibson Guitar Inc. is a much easier target.

Nationally syndicated columnist, William Hamilton, was educated at the University of Oklahoma, the George Washington University, the U.S Naval War College, the University of Nebraska, and Harvard University.

©2011. William Hamilton.

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