Miami Seafood Firm Pleads Guilty and is Sentenced for Imported Seafood Labelling Fraud
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Tracy Dunn, Special Agent in Charge, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Office of Law Enforcement, announce that the Miami-based seafood company True Nature Seafood, LLC (TNS), was sentenced in Miami on a one count information, which count charged the defendant with knowingly making and submitting a false record, account, or label for fish which had been or was intended to be imported, exported, transported, sold, purchased, in violation of the Lacey Act, Title 16, United States Code, Sections 3372(d)(1) and (2), 3373(d)(3)(A), and Title 18, United States Code, Section 2.
U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro, who accepted the guilty plea of TNS on Friday, August 1, 2014, also imposed the sentence in the case. TNS was sentenced to pay a fine of $500,000, community service payments of $500,000, placed on probation for a term of five years, ordered to implement an Environmental Compliance Plan as a special condition of probation, and ordered to forfeit proceeds in the sale of approximately 43,150.5 pounds of toothfish (Dissostichus Spp.) valued at $400,862.88, previously seized by NOAA.
According to a joint factual statement executed by the parties, statements in court and case-related records, TNS was engaged in the wholesale purchase, importation, processing, packaging, sale, and distribution of seafood products, in interstate and foreign commerce. These activities included transactions involving seafood product, which was imported, re-labelled, and transshipped from Miami to both domestic and foreign customers by and at the direction of the officers and agents of TNS, acting within the scope of their employment and for the benefit of TNS.
TNS admitted in court that in August 2010, at Miami International Airport, it imported approximately 11,192 pounds of seafood product by commercial air carrier from Santiago, Chile. Documents accompanying the shipment and filed with U.S. authorities, described the shipment as processed Steelhead Trout, with a wholesale value of $62,233.86. After clearing U.S. Customs, the shipment was transferred to a cold storage facility in Miami. On August 20, 26, and 27, 2010, an employee of TNS acting within the scope of employment and for the benefit of the defendant, transmitted instructions by email to a subsidiary of TNS, directing that the August 2010 consignment be re-labelled as Salmon. Thereafter, TNS caused the seafood product to be shipped to customers in both the United States and Canada, for which it subsequently received payments from its interstate and foreign customers in the approximate amount of $77,536.80.
U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Imports have become a major source for the fish, shrimp, and other seafood products enjoyed by many Americans. False labelling of these products undermines efforts to ensure that the seafood has been legally harvested, properly handled, and is otherwise safe for distribution to consumers. The U.S. Attorney’s Office strongly supports the efforts of NOAA Fisheries and other federal agencies in insuring the public is not misled, and that all regulatory requirements are met.”
“Combating seafood fraud is a high priority for NOAA Fisheries,” said Eileen Sobeck, Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “This fraudulent activity had a direct financial impact on honest fishermen. Our agents and officers will continue to ensure that legitimately harvested and marketed seafood is not undercut by fraudulent products thus protecting fish stocks, the honest fisherman, and consumers.”
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of NOAA Office of Law Enforcement and the efforts of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI), Miami Field Office which contributed to bringing the investigation to a successful conclusion. The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at http://www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.