Two former seafood company executives were sentenced for an elaborate conspiracy to conceal the age and origin of foreign seafood. U.S. District Judge Ginny Granade accepted “binding” plea agreements for Karen L. Blyth and David H.M. Phelps, which means she has no discretion in the sentence. Both Defendants will serve substantially shorter prison terms than the punishment recommended under advisory guidelines. Blyth, who was part owner and president of Arizona-based Consolidated Seafood Enterprises, will serve two years and nine months in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Phelps, who was part owner and vice president of the company, will serve two years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release. Each Defendant also will pay a $5,000 fine, and neither can hold any ownership stake or managerial positions in the seafood industry while they are on supervised release.
Consolidated Seafood Enterprises contracted with importers to bring in fish from abroad and then supplied the product to wholesalers that sold seafood to restaurants and stores. Blyth and Phelps also ran Reel Fish and Seafood Inc., a seafood wholesaler near Pensacola, Fla. Blyth and Phelps admitted that they would buy and sell frozen catfish fillets called basa, swai and sutchi that they knew had been falsely labeled to avoid customs duties. They passed off the fish, as well as Lake Victoria perch from Africa, as grouper to customers in Alabama, Florida and elsewhere.
The Defendants also admitted to overstating the size of shrimp they sold and labeling them as U.S. wild caught when, in fact, they were raised on shrimp farms in foreign countries. Both of the Defendants were present between January and June in 2005, when employees at Reel Fish and Seafood took shrimp out of boxes indicating they were farm-raised and repackaged them as wild-caught U.S. shrimp. Under the plea agreement, the Defendants agreed that they:
• Falsified, or allowed employees to falsify, documents describing 283,500 pounds of Vietnamese catfish as sole. Some of the fish had tested positive for malachite green, a chemical compound prohibited in the United States, and a banned antibiotic called Enrofloxin, although Armstrong said they were FDA-approved concentrations.
• Avoided an anti-dumping duty of $40,098 on 81,000 pounds of imported Vietnamese fish by labeling it as sole.
• Sold 101,078 pounds of catfish as grouper to 65 customers of Reel Fish and Seafood in Alabama, Florida and elsewhere.
• Sold 25,000 pounds of imported Lake Victoria perch as grouper or snapper to 45 customers of Reel Fish from Jan. 20, 2005, to May 8, 2006.
The violations in this case should get the attention of consumers. Bringing in fish and shrimp and other seafood from foreign countries – and then mislabeling the products – is a most serious offense.
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