Catfish scam lands seafood boss in jail –

Catfish scam lands seafood boss in jail Published:  04 August, 2010

A RECENT high profile court case has shown that it doesn’t pay to tamper with fish in the United States.

An American boss in New Jersey is  facing several months  ‘in the pen’ and a financial bill of $64 million for mislabelling cheap Vietnamese catfish as high quality seafood.

Thomas George, aged 61, and founder of the Sterling Seafood Corporation in New Jersey was accused of  attempting to avoid paying more than $63 million in tariffs to the US Treasurry.

A US District Court was told that George imported more than 11 million pounds (weight) of the catfish between 2004 and 2006  to be sold as sole and grouper fillets to supermarkets and restaurants.

U.S. District Court Judge Faith Hochberg in Newark ordered the $64 million restitution and  sentenced George to spend 22 months in federal prison. However, he will serve a year of that term under supervised release.

George pleaded guilty to the offences back in January when he agreed to make a $50,000 community service payment to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. He has stepped down as head of Sterling Seafood. He founded the company in 1989 after coming to the United States from India. He later became a US citizen and his company imported seafood from Asia and South America of which Vietnamese catfish was a big part.

Paul J. Fishman, U.S. Attorney for the District of New  Jersey said the cases reflecteds his  office’s commitment to enforcing customs duties and prosecuting consumer fraud.  “This office will continue to protect fair competition in the marketplace and consumers’ right to know what they are purchasing,.” he added.

Passing off cheap  Vietnamese fish as a  superior variety is becoming increasingly  common in Britain,  but nothing like on the scale of Thomas George’s crime. In the UK it is  at a much lower level, usually carried out in fried fish shops. When caught the offenders generally   face a fine of  a few hundred pounds.