(CN) – A Virginia seafood processor has pleaded guilty to falsely labeling millions of dollars worth of foreign crab meat as a “product of the USA,” the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
James Casey, owner and president of Casey’s Seafood Inc., entered his plea in federal court in Newport News, Virginia. Prosecutors said he admitted conspiring with others to substitute foreign crab meat for Atlantic blue crab and, as part of the plea, admitted to falsely labeling more than 183 tons of crab meat, which was then sold to grocery stores and independent retailers.
Blue crabs are considered a classic American seafood product and an important source of jobs in coastal communities in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina.
According to U.S Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger of Eastern District of Virginia, Casey and his unidentified cohorts replaced Atlantic Blue Crab meat with that from crabs harvested in China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Central and South America.
” This fraud causes real financial harm to economies here in the region, and threatens to tarnish the good name of the waterman who have worked these waters for generations,” Terwilliger said.
Casey told U.S. District Judge Raymond Jackson that beginning at least as early as 2010, and continuing through June 17, 2015, he directed company employees to unpack foreign crab meat from his suppliers’ containers, comingle it with domestic blue crab and/or other types of crab, and re-pack that crab meat into Casey’s Seafood containers, all of which were labeled “Product of USA.”
He further admitted that part of the conspiracy was to purchase discounted foreign crab meat, some of which was referred to as “distressed” because it was approaching or beyond its posted “best used by” dates.
Casey acknowledged directing company employees to “re-condition” the “distressed” crab meat by re-pasteurizing it, and then packaging the “re-conditioned” meat in the company’s containers.
Casey also directed employees to place labels with “Product of USA” on containers that concealed labels marked as “Product of China” and “Product of Brazil,” prosecutors said.
Casey is expected to be sentenced on Jan. 9, 2019. He faces a maximum of five years in prison and a fine of up to half the gross gain of the offense.