Va. Seafood Dealer Goes to Prison for Counterfeit Crab Scheme

James R. Casey, 75. Photo: Western Tidewater Regional Jail

The owner of a wholesale seafood dealer in Newport News will spend nearly four years in federal prison and pay $15,000 in fines, for passing off foreign crab meat as “Product of USA” blue crab.

75-year-old James R. Casey was sentenced in a federal courtroom for conspiring to commit Lacy Act violations for false seafood labeling.

Court documents show Casey, owner of Casey’s Seafood, told his employees to blend foreign crab meat with Atlantic blue crab meat, labeling the blended crab meat as “Product of USA”. He apparently even directed employees to stick those labels directly on top of labels that read “Product of Brazil” or “Product of China.” The foreign crab came from both of those countries, and also Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Central America, and some of it wasn’t even blue crab.

And it wasn’t just a few tubs of crab meat— Casey and 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.

When Casey pleaded guilty back in September, he admitted to prosecutors that the conspiracy started after a decline in the blue crab population made crab prices spike, and Casey’s Seafood couldn’t process enough Atlantic blue crab to meet customer demands.

The case was part of a crackdown on false crab meat labeling by NOAA’s 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.

Casey faced up to five years in prison, but a judge ultimately gave him three years and nine months behind bars.

-Meg Walburn Viviano