Monday, December 11, 2023

Son pleads guilty in blue crab false labeling conspiracy

Blue crabs are a Chesapeake Bay icon and important commercial and recreational species. (WYDaily/VIMS)
Blue crabs are a Chesapeake Bay icon and important commercial and recreational species. (WYDaily/Courtesy of VIMS)

A 42-year-old Poquoson man is the second sentenced to prison in federal court for falsely labeling foreign crab he sold as “Product of USA.”

Michael P. Casey pleaded guilty Thursday to conspiring to violate the Lacey Act, according to a U.S. Department of Justice news release.

Casey faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when sentenced on Nov. 14, although sentences typically are less than the maximum penalty.

In January, his father, James Casey, was sentenced to 48 months in prison for his role in the scheme at Casey’s Seafood, which included repackaging and falsely labeling millions of dollars of foreign crab as “blue crab.”

James Casey was the president of the company, while Michael Casey was the vice president for marketing and operations.

“As I stated when his father was convicted, the Caseys conspired to replace Atlantic Blue Crab with crab meat from Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Central and South America,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Casey falsely labeled nearly 400,000 pounds of crab meat with a retail value in the millions of dollars. This fraud causes real financial harm to the fragile, maritime economies here in the region, and threatens to tarnish the good name of the watermen and women who have worked this estuary for generations.”

Casey’s Seafood was a wholesale processor of crab meat and other seafood, and distributed their products to grocery stores and independent retailers.

Michael Casey admitted to know Casey’s Seafood employees were told to take foreign crab and put it into their own Casey’s containers — which started happening as early as 2010. That crab meat amounted to about 183 tons of crab meat.

He also admitted to aiding and abetting his father in selling at least 367,765 pounds of falsely-labeled crab meat with a wholesale value of about $4.32 million, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

“Seafood fraud undermines the economic viability of U.S. and global fisheries, deceives consumers, and threatens the health of those who consume tainted or misidentified seafood products,” said James Landon, director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement. 

In his plea, Michael Casey said Casey’s Seafood was unable to keep up with customer demand because of a decline in the Atlantic blue crab harvest in 2010. 

At times, the company would not process blue crab for about three months, replacing that meat with crab meat from Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam and other countries.

Some of that foreign meat was not native to the Atlantic, either. Some of it included some Indo-West Pacific species that do not live near the United States.

Further, some of the meat was “distressed,” meaning it was discounted because it was approaching its “best used by” date.

Casey’s employees would “recondition” the meat by “re-pasteurizing” it.

Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing
Sarah Fearing is the Assistant Editor at WYDaily. Sarah was born in the state of Maine, grew up along the coast, and attended college at the University of Maine at Orono. Sarah left Maine in October 2015 when she was offered a job at a newspaper in West Point, Va. Courts, crime, public safety and civil rights are among Sarah’s favorite topics to cover. She currently covers those topics in Williamsburg, James City County and York County. Sarah has been recognized by other news organizations, state agencies and civic groups for her coverage of a failing fire-rescue system, an aging agriculture industry and lack of oversight in horse rescue groups. In her free time, Sarah enjoys lazing around with her two cats, Salazar and Ruth, drinking copious amounts of coffee and driving places in her white truck.

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