Local seafood processor accused of passing off foreign shrimp as from U.S.

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wwltv.com

Posted on May 25, 2012 at 6:24 PM

Updated Friday, May 25 at 6:42 PM

Maya Rodriguez / Eyewitness News
Email: mrodriguez@wwltv.com | Twitter: @mrodriguezwwl

NEW ORLEANS-- DoRan Sea-Pak seafood processing company in Independence faced challenges after the BP oil spill -- mainly a lack of shrimp.

It was a problem that company owner Randy Pearce spoke about to Action Reporter Bill Capo last fall.

"We're looking at numbers probably down about 80 to 90 percent from catch in Louisiana," Pearce said at the time.

The company's latest troubles, though, involve the law. Federal prosecutors contend DoRan Sea-Pak knowingly re-labeled $100,000 of shrimp caught in Mexico and passed it off as American-caught shrimp.

According to a bill of information filed this week in federal court in New Orleans, DoRan Sea-Pak conspired with Illinois-based "Worldwide Shrimp Company," to distribute the mislabeled shrimp across the country in 2007 and 2008.

"Representatives of DoRan agreed to mislabel the Mexican-caught shrimp as shrimp that was a "Product of U.S.A.," the bill of information read.

Federal prosecutors said that is a violation of the Lacey Act: false identification of fish or wildlife received from a foreign country or transported in interstate commerce.

DoRan owner Randy Pearce is the son of Harlon Pearce, chairman of the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, who became highly visible after the BP oil spill.

"He did his due diligence. Looked at the exemptions in processing. Looked at the different things in the law-- with HACCP, COO and the Lacey Act and saw there were no problems with that," Harlon Pearce said in an interview with Eyewitness News on Friday.

However, there were problems. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminsitration began launching investigations into similar seafood mislabeling in other states as early as 2005. When NOAA agents came to inspect DoRan Sea-Pak, Pearce said his son came clean.

"DoRan Sea-Pak was completely honest from day one about what went on, told them what happened in 2007, that they thought they had a processing exemption," he said. "At that point, NOAA said they didn't really think they did."

That led to the federal charges. Pearce said his son Randy could not speak about the case because he is cooperating with authorities.

"When the pleas hit the table, which will be in the near future, you will see a very different picture than what you see in that bill of information," he said.

U.S. Attorney Jim Letten said he could not comment on an ongoing case. An arraignment is set for June 7. In the meantime, Worldwide Shrimp Company said it entered a plea deal for a fine of $50,000. The maximum possible fine under law is $500,000. 

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