Seafood Processor Sentenced to 45 Months for Selling Foreign Crab Meat Falsely Labeled as Blue Crab From USA
On January 10, 2019, James R. Casey of Poquoson, Virginia, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson, in Norfolk, Virginia, to 45 months in prison and a $15,000 fine for his role in conspiring to falsely label millions of dollars’ worth of foreign crab meat as “Product of USA.”
A significant decline in Atlantic blue crab (Callinectes sapidus) 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. According to papers filed in federal court, 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, Casey and his 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.
The crab meat from Indonesia, China, Thailand, and Vietnam included meat from Portunus pelagicus, Portunus haanii, and Ovalipes punctatus, which are all Indo-West Pacific species of crab that do not live in the continental waters of the United States. The company also purchased crab meat (not live crabs) from Central American sources, which did include Atlantic blue crab, Callinectes sapidus, but also included other species such as Callinectes bocourti, Callinectes bellicosis, Callinectes toxotes, and Callinectes arcuatus.
In his plea agreement, Casey—who was the owner and President of Casey’s Seafood Inc., a wholesale processor of crab meat and other seafood—admitted to substituting foreign crab meat for domestically harvested blue crab. Videos, which were recorded by Casey’s Seafood’s security camera, and which were filed with the court, show company employees removing foreign crab meat from cans and plastic bags, and repackaging the crab meat into plastic containers labeled “Product of USA.” In the filed papers, Casey admitted to directing his employees to substitute and falsely label more than 183 tons of foreign crab meat, which was then sold to grocery stores and independent retailers.
According to the documents filed with the court, Casey further admitted that part of the conspiracy was to purchase discounted foreign crab meat, some of which was referred to as “distressed” because it was approaching or beyond its posted “best used by” dates. Casey admitted to directing company employees to “re-condition” the “distressed” crab meat by re-pasteurizing it, and then packaging the “re-conditioned” meat into the company’s cups, 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.”
This case was part of an ongoing effort by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement, in coordination with the Food and Drug Administration, Department of Homeland Security, the Virginia Marine Police, and the Department of Justice to detect, deter, and prosecute those engaged in the false labeling of crab meat. This prosecution is being handled by the Justice Department’s Environmental Crimes Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorney Eric Hurt and Trial Attorney Gary N. Donner.