Monday, August 15, 2022

Poquoson man pleads guilty to labeling imported crabmeat as ‘Product of USA’

The blue crab Callinectes sapidus. (WYDaily/Courtesy VIMS)
The blue crab Callinectes sapidus. (WYDaily/Courtesy VIMS)

A Poquoson man pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to charges that he led a lucrative conspiracy to falsely label millions of dollars worth of foreign crab meat as “Product of USA.”

James R. Casey, the owner and president of Casey’s Seafood Inc. in Newport News, appeared Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in Newport News, according to a Department of Justice news release.

As part of the plea deal Wednesday, Casey admitted to falsely labeling more than 183 tons of crab meat, which was then sold to grocery stores and independent retailers, the Department of Justice said. Casey’s Seafood is at 807 Jefferson Ave.

Casey faces up to five years in prison and a fine of up to half the gross financial gain from the offense. He is scheduled to be sentenced Jan. 9.

The investigation is still ongoing.

As part of the plea, Casey further admitted that beginning at least as early as 2010, and continuing through June 17, 2015, he directed his employees to unpack foreign crab meat from his suppliers’ containers, co-mingle it with domestic blue crab and/or other types of crab, and repack that crab meat into Casey’s Seafood containers, all of which were labeled “Product of USA.”

RELATED: Poquoson man charged in federal court after labeling imported crabmeat as ‘Product of USA’

Federal prosecutors said Casey also admitted that part of the conspiracy was to buy discounted foreign crab meat, some of which was referred to as “distressed” because it was approaching or beyond its posted “best used by” dates. He directed his employees to “recondition” the “distressed” crab meat by re-pasteurizing it, and then packaging the “reconditioned” meat into the company’s containers, which were labeled and sold as blue crab and “Product of USA.”

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.

“Mr. Casey 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 economies here in the region and threatens to tarnish the good name of the waterman who have worked these waters for generations. We are committed to working with our federal and state partners to ensure compliance with the Lacey Act, and to enforce our nation’s environmental laws that are in place to protect consumers from similar fraud schemes.”

A significant decline in Atlantic blue crab harvests that began in 2010 made it increasingly expensive to purchase live Atlantic blue crab and increasingly difficult to profit from the labor-intensive process of picking meat from live-harvested blue crab.

Prosecutors said Casey admitted that, because of this decline, he and his company could not and did not process sufficient quantities of Atlantic blue crab to meet customer demands.

To make up the shortfall, the co-conspirators used foreign crab meat to fulfill customer orders. During the periods when the company did not process blue crab — which sometimes lasted three months — the co-conspirators purchased crab meat (not live crabs) from Indonesia, China, Thailand, Vietnam and other foreign locales.

“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 National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement. “This case underscores the efforts taken by federal law enforcement to strengthen seafood fraud detection throughout the supply chain, and our continued commitment to diligently work to safeguard the industry and consumers.”

This story was published in partnership with our sister publication, HNNDaily.

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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