Virginia company labeled crab meat as from the U.S., but it wasn’t, officials say

Bailey Aldridge

A Virginia seafood company has pleaded guilty to falsely labeling millions of dollars worth of foreign crab meat as a U.S. product.

Michael P. Casey, who was the vice president for marketing and operations of the wholesale seafood processor Casey’s Seafood Inc., pleaded guilty in federal court on July 18 to conspiring to “substitute foreign crab meat for Atlantic blue crab” and falsely labeling the meat as “Product of USA,” according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

The crab meat was purchased from China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand and was from species of crab that do not live in continental United States waters, the Department of Justice said.

Casey admitted to knowing that workers were instructed to unpack this foreign crab meat and then repack it into company packaging that contained a “Product of the USA” label, the department said.

More than 183 tons of this falsely labeled crab meat were then sold to grocery stores and other retailers, the release said.

Casey also admitted to buying crab meat that was past or nearing its “best used by date” at a discounted price, which employees of the company would then “re-condition” and package into Casey’s Seafood containers labeled as blue crab and “product of USA,” the department said.

He also knew that employees would use such labels to cover up “product of China” and “product of Indonesia” labels on the packaging, the department said.

In 2010, a significant decline in Atlantic blue crab began, making it expensive and difficult to make a profit from meat from “live-harvested blue crab,” the department said.

Because of this decline, the company couldn’t process enough of the meat to keep up with demands and began using the foreign crab meat to fulfill orders, Casey admitted, according to the department.

The company sometimes went for three months without processing any blue crab, the department said.

James Casey, the owner and president of Casey’s Seafood, also pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 48 months in prison in January, according to the department.

Michael Casey’s sentencing will take place in November, and five years in prison is the maximum sentence he can receive for conspiring to falsely label crab meat, according to the department.

“Seafood fraud undermines the economic viability of U.S. and global fisheries, deceives consumers, and threatens the health of those who consume tainted or misidentified seafood products,” said James Landon, director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of Law Enforcement, according to the release.