Addison Seafood Company And Its Owner Resolve Civil And Criminal Charges Of Mislabeling Frozen Fish And Shrimp
CHICAGO — An Addison seafood distributor and its owner have agreed to resolve civil and criminal charges for mislabeling certain products by substituting cheaper fish for more expensive fish and misstating the weight of shrimp to charge customers more for a lesser quantity, federal officials announced today. GOURMET EXPRESS MARKETING, INC., and its president and owner, PATRICK A. BRUNO, agreed to a permanent injunction in settling a civil lawsuit and Bruno has agreed to plead guilty to a criminal misdemeanor charge, admitting that he mislabeled and sold swai as “catfish,” and perch as “red snapper” or “pacific snapper,” and also packaged shrimp in an ice glaze that added to its weight.
The mislabeling has not resulted in any known illnesses or danger to public health, officials said.
U.S. District Judge Edmond Chang signed a consent decree today after the government filed a civil lawsuit against Bruno and Gourmet Express, alleging violations of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The decree enjoins the defendants from committing any future violations, requires the hiring of an independent expert at the company’s expense to ensure compliance with the agreement and federal laws, and provides for civil damages of $5,000 a day and $10,000 for each shipment in the event violations occur.
Also today, Bruno, 71, of Addison, was charged in a criminal information with a misdemeanor violation of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act for mislabeling Gourmet Express’ products. Through his attorney, Bruno has authorized the government to disclose that he will plead guilty to the criminal charge. He will be arraigned at a later date in U.S. District Court.
“Customers who purchase seafood products are entitled to know they got what they paid for,” said Gary S. Shapiro, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. “Proper labeling is necessary to protect consumers and we stand ready to take action against food distributors who violate federal food laws and regulations.”
Mr. Shapiro announced today’s action with Scott MacIntire, district director of the FDA’s Chicago District Office, and John P. Stich, Acting Special Agent-in-Charge of the FDA’s Office of Criminal Investigations.
According to court documents, Gourmet Express purchases, processes and repacks frozen seafood and sells its products to retailers and wholesalers in Illinois and other states. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning letter to the defendants in February 2010 after inspections in 2009 found that they misrepresented the weight of frozen shrimp after adding an ice glaze to the products, and mislabeled perch as “red snapper,” or “pacific snapper.” Subsequent inspections in March and April 2010 documented continuing and additional violations.
The FDA tested samples of the defendants’ frozen cooked shrimp during some inspections in 2009 and 2010 to evaluate the net weight stated on the product labels. The tests revealed that the actual weight of the products was, respectively, 21.5 and 14.4 percent under the labeled weight. The FDA tested DNA samples to determine the true species of the fish.
The criminal case alleges that between 2007 and 2010, Bruno knew that seafood sold he was mislabeled and that the packages of frozen shrimp overstated the weight of that ice-glazed product. The FDA violation carries a maximum penalty of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The civil consent decree requires Gourmet Express and Bruno to hire a qualified independent expert who will develop and implement a written plan for the receipt, processing, packing, labeling, and distribution of seafood to ensure that product labeling is accurate and the products are what they purport to be. Bruno must regularly certify to the FDA that the defendants are in compliance with the plan, and the defendants must pay for future FDA inspections to evaluate compliance. After five years of continuous compliance, Gourmet Express and Bruno may ask a judge to end the consent decree.
The government is being represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Donald Lorenzen and Kaarina Salovaara.
In a criminal case, the defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government has the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In a civil case, the government must prove its allegations by a preponderance of the evidence.