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BOSTON, Mass. - The owner of Ocean Fresh Seafood, Inc. was sentenced in federal court today to 60 months in prison arising out of his scheme to defraud Wells Fargo Business Credit, Inc., a division of Wells Fargo Bank NA.

ROBERT COUTU, 53, was sentenced today to 60 months in prison to be followed by 36 months supervised release. COUTU was also ordered to pay $6,582,165.91 to Wells Fargo and its successors.

COUTU was the owner and President of Ocean Fresh Seafood, Inc., headquartered in North Attleboro. Beginning before August 1, 2005, COUTU orchestrated a complex scheme to defraud Wells Fargo, which, since 2002, extended a line of credit to Ocean Fresh. The Wells Fargo line of credit was secured by Ocean Fresh’s accounts receivable and inventory. COUTU, with the assistance of various Ocean Fresh employees, falsely inflated Ocean Fresh’s receivables and inventory balances in order to borrow millions of dollars more than the company’s actual business activity would have permitted. To accomplish their scheme, COUTU and others created false invoices and wired funds from Ocean Fresh’s bank account to accounts managed by affiliates and friends of COUTU to create the appearance that Oceanfresh was buying and selling much more product than it actually was.

When Wells Fargo’s auditors conducted their quarterly reviews at Ocean Fresh, COUTU and his employees showed them the fabricated paperwork. COUTU also “prepared” for these quarterly reviews by stuffing the freezers with “borrowed” low value seafood from COUTU’s friends in the fish business and then directed his employees to mislabel it as high value seafood, such as lobster tails.

Ocean Fresh’s former Controllers, CHRISTOPHER DAY and CYNTHIA LAROSE have both pleaded guilty to conspiring with COUTU and others to defraud Wells Fargo. LAROSE was sentenced to three months Probation for her role in the fraud and DAY is awaiting sentencing.

In a related case, COUTU’s former accountant pleaded guilty to misprision of felony and was sentenced to three years Probation.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, William P. Offord, Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Boston Field Division, and Richard DesLauriers, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division made the announcement today. This case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah E. Walters and Vassili Thomadakis of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Unit.

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