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Gibson: Wood Was Properly Imported

Head of Gibson Guitar Corp. said the company is being unfairly targeted after a raid by federal authorities at factories in Memphis and Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The head of Gibson Guitar Corp. said Thursday that the company is being unfairly targeted after a raid by federal authorities at factories in Memphis and Nashville.

Henry Juszkiewicz, CEO of Nashville-based Gibson, said at a news conference that authorities didn't specify what they were investigating during Wednesday's raids, but have suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal.

However he said his company has taken steps to ensure that its wood is properly imported. Guitars and other musical instruments are often built from tropical hardwoods, which are increasingly the focus of tight controls due to deforestation.

Juszkiewicz said the company has been implicated in criminal activity, but not charged, which he said was "plain wrong."

"We feel totally abused," Juszkiewicz said Thursday.

Nicholas Chavez, special agent in charge of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's office in Albuquerque, N.M., told The Associated Press on Wednesday that investigators searched the guitar maker's locations in Memphis and Nashville.

Chavez did not say why they did the searches or what they seized. He said it's part of an ongoing criminal investigation that began in Texas. When asked about that investigation on Thursday, Juszkiewicz said he didn't know anything about it.

Agents also raided the Nashville location in November 2009. At that time, Gibson issued a statement saying it was "fully cooperating with agents of the United States Fish & Wildlife Service as it pertains to an issue with harvested wood."

Juszkiewicz mentioned that raid on Thursday, saying more than a dozen agents with automatic weapons invaded the Gibson factory in Nashville, much the same way they did Wednesday. During the 2009 raid, he said authorities seized guitars and "ebony fingerboard blanks from Madagascar."

This last time, he said authorities seized "several palettes of wood, electronic files and guitars."

As with the latest raid, he said criminal charges have not been filed from the 2009 raid. He said the company has sworn statements and documents from the Madagascar government showing the seized wood was legally exported from that country.

Juszkiewicz said a case is pending in federal court to have its property from the 2009 raid returned.

He said the materials taken in the recent raid have hurt the company's ability to produce. Gibson manufactures acoustic and electric guitars. The company also makes pianos through its Baldwin brand.

Juszkiewicz said Gibson is cooperating with authorities, but hopes to start production again soon because each day of non-production is about a loss of a million dollars.

"We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence," he said.