Last week, Senator Rand Paul hosted an event called “Property Wrongs: A Discussion with the Victims of the U.S. Government’s Assault on Private Property.” The event was held in the same room as the Watergate hearings, but unlike those hearings, Paul’s event went largely unnoticed by the media. That’s a shame, because the stories told there need to be heard. Each represents a greater threat to American liberty than the Watergate break-in.
The first testimony was given by Henry Juszkiewicz, the CEO of Gibson Guitars. Juszkiewicz explained how, two years ago, Department of Homeland Security agents stormed his Nashville factory armed with automatic weapons and bulletproof vests, forced 200-300 employees from the premises and seized raw materials. It would be months before Juszkiewicz learned what the agents were doing at his factory. He eventually found out that the federal government believed that Gibson Guitars was violating Madagascar’s laws by importing “illegal” wood, even though the government of Madagascar says that the company isn’t violating its laws at all.
Three more of Gibson’s factories were later raided. During the raids, DHS officials demanded to see every company invoice from the last decade, and employees were told that if they so much as touched any of the guitars on the premises, they could face criminal charges. Juszkiewicz explained that so far no charges have been filed, no deadlines have been set, no recourse has been offered and the case hasn’t moved forward. He estimated that Gibson Guitars has suffered upwards of $3 million in losses from the disruptions, while the government has spent $10-12 million pursuing the case.
After Juszkiewicz was done telling his story, Mike and Chantell Sackett told theirs. A few years ago, the Sacketts paid $23,000 for a lot in Idaho. They planned to build a home on the lot, which was in an area where plenty of other houses already stood. Then, one day, officials from the Environmental Protection Agency showed up, demanded the Sacketts stop construction and claimed the Sacketts’ property was a wetland protected by the Clean Water Act. “We did all the right things” in terms of obtaining the proper permits and asking the appropriate authorities for permits, Mrs. Sackett said. In fact, the lot isn’t a wetland, even according to the definition provided by the EPA’s website. Nevertheless, the EPA ordered the Sacketts to restore the land to its pre-construction condition and report to the EPA on their progress — or face $32,500 fines each day until they complied. The Sacketts are seeking legal recourse, but their case remains in limbo.
Victoria Pozsgai-Khoury told a similar story. Victoria is the daughter of Hungarian refugees who escaped Soviet rule in 1956. After coming to the United States, Victoria’s father started an auto repair shop. In 1986, he purchased a vacant 14-acre lot that had become the unofficial community dump, an eyesore constantly littered with old tires and other garbage. His intention was to build a new auto repair shop on the site. He obtained all of the permits that he needed to do so, and he mortgaged the family home to cover the costs of the new shop.
In 1988, the EPA sued Victoria’s parents for allegedly building on a wetland, with the government even setting up secret surveillance in a neighbor’s home. A few days later, federal agents surrounded the auto repair shop, arrested Victoria’s father and hauled him off in handcuffs. His wife wept. He wasn’t allowed to call his family and wasn’t released because, the family was told, the case was “still pending.” When an attorney neighbor finally managed to get him released on bail, two more armed federal agents ransacked the family’s home, supposedly looking for illegal firearms.
“My mother stood outside as she could not watch strangers rummage through her closets and drawers,” Victoria said. “It was like watching thieves burglarize your home and not being able to do anything. We felt violated after this experience. No illegal firearms were found because they didn’t exist, just like their bogus wetland claims.”
Victoria’s mother said it reminded her of when the Soviets invaded Hungary.
Later that year, Victoria’s father was found guilty on 40 counts of violating the Clean Water Act and given the maximum fine of $202,000 and the maximum prison sentence of three years. The family fought the case and by 1990 was bankrupt. Victoria’s father served his sentence, which ended up being 18 months of hard time in Allenwood federal prison.
In October of 2000, the family testified before the House Committee on Government Reform, where Victoria’s father was given a standing ovation and an apology by the committee’s chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, on behalf of the federal government. However, afterwards the Army Corps of Engineers — which had been instrumental in pushing this case throughout — sued the family again.
These are just some of the outrageous stories presented on Wednesday. There were many others. And many of the people who were invited to the event chose not to attend out of fear that government agencies would retaliate against them if they spoke out about their experiences. Actually, Victoria Pozsgai-Khoury believes that’s why the Army Corps of Engineers sued her father after he spoke to the House Committee on Government Reform in 2000.
Sen. Mike Lee, who was in attendance at Wednesday’s event, called each of these cases “tyranny.” The other senators and congressmen present seemed to agree. An emotional Sen. Jim DeMint wondered what country these people were talking about, because it didn’t sound like the United States of America. There was much anger. There were tears.
But again, there was little to no media.
The very concept of rogue government agencies operating according to their own rules, bullying and abusing private citizens, bankrupting businesses, damaging dreams and destroying lives, based on the flimsiest of reasons and often without legal challenge — it’s hard to fathom anything more un-American.
Except perhaps an American press that largely continues to ignore it.
Jack Hunter writes at the “Paulitical Ticker,” where he is the official Ron Paul 2012 campaign blogger.