Packing Alien & Distressed Crabmeat as Fresh Blue Crab Under USA Label Illegally Lands Crab King James R. Casey 4-Year Vacation in Federal Slammer
NORFOLK, VA. – Carefully picking over fresh seafood in grocery stores and avoiding labels such as “Product of Thailand” or Product of Chile” due to concerns over processing habits of foreign seafood providers or “farm raised” salmon being fed noxious feed, consumers often choose “Product of USA” in hopes that the seafood has been deemed safe. Not so, in the case of a supplier to Harris Teeter, Farm Fresh, and other grocery stores. Consumers were deliberately deceived, not by the retailers, but by a Virginia seafood dealer.
An enforcement effort aimed at assuring those labels really mean something was successful in obtaining a guilty plea from a Virginia seafood dealer. James R. Casey, owner of Casey’s Seafood Inc. actually helped the feds gain his conviction when he installed security cameras in his packing house to keep tabs on theft and other felonious acts that could possibly be perpetrated by his employees. As it turned out, his security cameras proved the fraud to send Casey to prison when video footage revealed his employees were following his instructions to deceive wholesale buyers and eventually consumers.
Prosecutors said that 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.
Casey directed that his workers falsely labeled at least 397,917 pounds of crab meat, with a retail value in the millions of dollars, according to prosecutors. The illegal practice went on from at least 2012 through 2015. It was sold in grocery stores like Harris Teeter and Farm Fresh.
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.
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.”