Thursday, May 29

Armed federal raid on Gibson Guitar: sealed warrant feds wouldn't show, no charges, records sealed. WTF??

The events below happened 3 years ago.

“Boss, armed agents from Homeland Security just raided our factory!”

“What? It must be a joke.”

“No, this is serious. Federal agents with guns ordered all our people into the parking lot and won’t let us go back in the plant.”
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What is happening?” the owner of Gibson Guitar asked DHS agents when he arrived at his Nashville factory.

“We can’t tell you.”

What are you talking about, you can’t tell me, you can’t just come in and …”

“We have a warrant!”

"Let me see it.”

“We can’t show it to you because it’s sealed.”

With that, 30 armed federal agents from Homeland Security and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service carted away about half a million dollars of wood and guitars.

The next day the owner got a letter forbidding him to touch any guitar left in the plant, under threat of being charged with a separate federal offense for each “violation,” punishable by a jail term.

Two months before the raid, Washington lobbyists slipped some arcane supply-chain reporting provisions into an extension of the Lacey Act of 1900 that changed the technical definition of “fingerboard blanks,” which are legal to import.

Gibson was neither accused nor charged with illegally importing ebony lumber. In fact, the company was never formally charged with anything at all.  The dispute was over the technical definition of “fingerboard blanks.”  In fact, after extorting a $250,000 settlement from the company the confiscated fingerboards were returned to the company.  And while you may feel it's awful to important anything from Madagascar, the company broke neither its laws or ours.  This raid was about protectionism, not conservation.

The question is, who conceived and ordered the raid?  The owner believes it was pushed by lumber-union activists, but we'll never know since the records are sealed. 

Sealed warrants are a throwback to a time where the government--the king and his men--wasn’t accountable to the people.  The nation's founding fathers wisely adopted the Bill of Rights that included the requirement of a signed warrant specifically because they were tired of soldiers (and other agents of the government) simply kicking in their doors without being required to say why.  If a warrant can be sealed, you obviously can't see who signed it--or even if it was signed.

Or even if it really exists.

Sealed warrants shouldn’t be legal.  The Supreme Court erred in allowing them, and the Constitution should be amended to specifically ban them.  With police forces at all levels becoming paramilitary units accountable to no one, when that's combined with secret, sealed warrants it guarantees continued abuses like this one.
H/T to Forbes Magazine.  Click to read the whole article.

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