Vol 1 No 32- The Lacey Act and Overcriminalization

Vol 1 No 32- The Lacey Act and Overcriminalization

In the news on September 27th was this bit: “Special agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department of Justice executed search warrants at Lumber Liquidators’ headquarters in Toano, Virginia, and a company office in Richmond, Virginia, said ICE spokesman Brandon Montgomery….Analyst David Magee said the Lumber Liquidators situation reminded him of a 2011 wood-related investigation at Gibson Guitar Corp.  Gibson agreed to pay a $300,000 fine last year to avoid criminal charges after allegations that it illegally bought and imported ebony wood from Madagascar and rosewood and ebony from India, in violation of the Lacey Act.”

Lacey Act?  What’s the Lacey Act and where did it come from?

Well, as if knowing all the pertinent laws and regulations in the U.S. Code were not enough, American businessmen today who obtain products or raw materials from overseas sources face a veritable minefield created by the Lacey Act.  They must also be intimately familiar with all foreign laws in the countries where their materials originated.  Because if the foreign businessmen they are dealing with are unscrupulous or even just ignorant of their own country’s laws, the Americans are the ones most likely to go to jail or be fined.

The Lacey Act of 1900, or simply the Lacey Act, named after Iowa Republican Representative John Lacey, is a conservation law that protects plants and wildlife by creating both civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations.  It prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been taken, transported or sold in violation of U.S. or foreign law.  A 2008 amendment included anti-illegal-logging provisions, which ICE used to ensnare Gibson Guitar.  Gibson’s case hung on a paperwork error whereby some wood they imported intended for guitar fingerboards was noted as fitting one category on the Indian export paperwork, and a different category on the U.S. import paperwork.  Gibson Guitars CEO Henry Juszkiewicz was quoted as saying “Virtually every other guitar company uses this wood and this wood is used prominently by furniture and architectural industries, and to my knowledge none of them have been shut down or treated in this fashion.”  Analysts observed that Gibson’s chief competitor, C.F. Martin & Co., frequently uses the same “East Indian Rosewood” without any legal repercussions.  An editorial at the time also noted that C.F. Martin & Co. CEO gives to Democratic candidates, while Gibson’s CEO is a Republican donor.  Hmmm.  You don’t think….?  Nah, our government wouldn’t use a federal agency for political purposes, would they?

Perhaps the most famous Lacey Act prosecution of recent times began with an anonymous tip to the National Marine Fisheries Service that an incoming shipment of Honduran Spiny Lobster tails contained undersized tails and was not properly packaged in accordance with Honduran law.  The NMFS seized the shipment and held it for in deep freeze 6 months while they researched Honduran law themselves to find some angle with which to prosecute the businessmen.  They alerted the Honduran government to this alleged abridgement of their laws but the Hondurans declined to prosecute, in fact they suggested that their law was being misapplied.  Nevertheless, the NMFS took the businessmen to court and charged them not only with Lacey Act violations but racketeering, smuggling and money laundering as well.  Three of the four businessmen were sentenced to eight years in prison while the fourth got off with a two-year sentence.  In another case a pair of big game hunters forfeited the Bell Jet Ranger Helicopter they used to locate Bighorn sheep they later hunted from the ground.

On the lighter side, the Lacey Act has given us some of the most bizarre legal citations ever encountered; “United States v. 594,464 Pounds of Salmon, More or Less “ and “United States v. 144,774 Pounds Of Blue King Crab,” being just two great examples.

“What’s this got to do with me,” you say?  “I don’t import anything.”  The point here is that our wonderful government apparently has time to not only enforce U.S. law, but also time to enforce the laws of other nations.  That ought to scare you.  But it certainly fits into the inexorable trend of overcriminalization that is now rampant in government at all levels.

If you’d prefer your federal government stick to the enforcement of U.S. law, tell your Congressional representatives.