False labels lands catfish importer in jail
A Virginia fish importer was sentenced to 63 months in federal prison last week for participating in a conspiracy that led to more than 10 million pounds of frozen catfish being imported from Vietnam, but fraudulently labeled and sold in the United States as sole, grouper and other species.
The Justice Department said the sentence is one of the longest imposed by a federal judge for falsely labeling seafood.
U.S. District Judge Philip S. Gutierrez for the Central District of California, sentenced Peter Xuong Lam of Fairfax, Va., who was formerly president of Virginia Star Seafood Corp., and ordered him to forfeit more than $12 million to the government for antidumping duties avoided.
A second importer involved in the scheme, Arthur Yavelberg of Reston, Va., who was president of Virginia-based Silver Seas, was also sentenced last week for his role in the conspiracy to import mislabeled fish to avoid federal tariffs. Gutierrez sentence him to one year of probation.
The Justice Department said the cases against Lam and Yavelberg are part of the an ongoing prosecution of importers and seafood dealers who worked together to import catfish from Vietnam and sell frozen fillets that were falsely labeled as more desirable and more expensive fish.
Virginia Star and International Sea Products imported $15.5 million worth of catfish that was illegally labeled and imported as sole, grouper, flounder, snakehead, channa and conger pike.
'To date, a dozen individuals and companies have been convicted of criminal charges related to the scheme to avoid paying tariffs by falsely labeling fish for import and then selling it in the United States at below-market price,' the Justice Department said.
The organizer of the smuggling ring, Henry Nguyen, remains a fugitive and is believed to be residing in Vietnam, the department added.