On Wednesday, the U.S. Department of Justice announced that Richard Stowell, of United Seafood Imports, had been sentenced to two years of probation and six months of home confinement for mislabeling imported shrimp products sold in the U.S. market. Mr. Stowell’s sentencing follows a related criminal conviction and sentencing in March of this year of Mark Platt, of Shifco Inc., in March to three years of probation and six months of home confinement for mislabeling imported shrimp and salmon.
Also earlier this year, Karen L. Blyth and David H.M. Phelps, of Consolidated Seafood Enterprises Inc. and Reel Fish and Seafood, Inc., were sentenced to 33 and 24 months in prison, respectively, for their role in mislabeling numerous seafood products, including imported shrimp falsely labeled as domestic shrimp. John J. Popa, of Reel Fish and Seafood Inc., was also sentenced to 13 months in prison for his involvement in these schemes.
The probationary sentences for Mr. Stowell and Mr. Platt, as compared to the prison sentences for Ms. Blyth, Mr. Phelps, and Mr. Popa, appear to be related in part to the assistance provided by Mr. Stowell and Mr. Platt in helping the U.S. government understand the widespread problem of false labeling in the U.S. seafood market.
Arguing for a lenient sentence, counsel for Mr. Platt argued that “Acknowledging his role in the offense conduct, Mark has sought forgiveness for his transgressions by actively assisting the government in understanding an industry-wide problem with mislabeled seafood products.” With respect to Mr. Stowell, the U.S. Attorney filed a motion to reduce the sentence that might otherwise be imposed on him based on his assistance in identifying the extent of the false labeling scheme undertaken. Additionally, Mr. Stowell’s sentence requires him to write “an article describing his conduct” and assist “in teaching the seafood industry about Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Regulations and Lacey Act requirements . . .”
Seafood mislabeling – particularly the mislabeling of shrimp – remains a serious and widespread problem in the U.S. market. Successful prosecutions of individuals and businesses that engage in false labeling and fraud are an important step in getting control over the problem. However, just as important is fully documenting the extent to which mislabeling impacts the seafood market in the United States and publicizing the severe consequences of violating the law.
Companies that have been and are still engaged in cheating their customers with false labels have not been given a free pass. Law enforcement may be knocking on their door soon.
Read the press release: http://www.justice.gov/usao/fls/PressReleases/110727-01.html