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TUESDAY, MAY 24, 2011

BOSTON, Mass. - Thomas Katz, 65, of Burlington, Mass., and Universal Group Inc., were sentenced today in federal court in Boston for their roles in purchasing and selling falsely labeled Asian catfish. Katz was sentenced to one year probation and three months home detention and ordered to pay a fine of $75,000. The judge indicated from the bench that but for circumstances unique to Mr. Katz, including health considerations, a jail sentence would have been appropriate for these crimes. Universal Group was sentenced to three years probation and to pay a fine of $75,000. The company was also ordered to take out a public service advertisement.

Universal Group and Katz, its president, pleaded guilty in May 2010 to one felony violation and one misdemeanor violation respectively of the Lacey Act. Between June and August 2004, Universal Group purchased over 90,000 pounds of frozen fish fillets worth over $300,000 that was invoiced as “China basa”, a type of Asian catfish. Universal commissioned a cold storage facility to re-label the containers of the fish as grouper, and sold the relabeled fish to a national restaurant chain. Between February 2004 and July 2005, Katz and Universal Group purchased an additional 2.5 million pounds of fish worth over 5.5 million dollars that was misleadingly labeled and branded as grouper. Laboratory analysis confirmed that this fish was actually swai, another inexpensive type of Vietnamese catfish, for which no anti-dumping duties had been paid.

This prosecution is one of many over the past few years targeting fraud in the seafood industry. In April 2011, Stephen C. Delaney of Quincy, Mass., was convicted of a felony Lacey Act mislabeling violation and a misdemeanor Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act misbranding violation for work he carried out for Katz and Universal. To date, 18 other U.S. – based companies and individuals have been convicted of similar offenses resulting in sentences ranging from probation to 63 months in prison.

This case was investigated by Special Agents of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Office of Law Enforcement and FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations. This case was prosecuted by the Environmental Crimes Section of the Department of Justice with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.



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