Gulf Coast restaurant icon Mary Mahoney’s guilty of misbranding seafood

Darkhorse Press

Photo: Mary Mahoney's Facebook

Gulfport, MS – A Mississippi corporation operating as Mary Mahoney’s Old French House restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi, pled guilty today to conspiracy to misbrand seafood and wire fraud. A co-owner/manager of the restaurant also pled guilty to misbranding of seafood.

According to court documents, Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, Inc., pled guilty to a felony Information, filed April 26, 2024, charging the corporation with conspiracy to misbrand seafood and wire fraud in connection with a scheme that began as early as 2002 and continued through November of 2019.  Mahoney’s, founded in 1962, admitted that between December 2013 and November 2019, it and its co-conspirators, fraudulently sold as local premium species, approximately 58,750 pounds (over 29 tons) of fish that was frozen and imported from Africa, India, and South America.  Additionally, Anthony Charles Cvitanovich, 55, a co-owner/manager at the restaurant, pled guilty to a felony Information, also filed April 26, 2024, charging him with misbranding of seafood during 2018 and 2019.

Cvitanovich admitted that between 2018 and 2019 alone, he was involved in mislabeling approximately 17,190 pounds of fish sold at the restaurant. The scheme involved the fraudulent sale of fish by Mahoney’s and its wholesale supplier that was described on Mahoney’s menu as premium higher priced local species, such as snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico, when the fish was actually other species from abroad, including Lake Victoria Perch from Africa, Triple Tail from Suriname, and Unicorn Filefish from India. Genetic testing of fish by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) confirmed the fraudulent scheme.

“When people spend their hard-earned dollars to enjoy the incredible local seafood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they should get what they paid for, not frozen fish from overseas,” said U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee of the Southern District of Mississippi.  “Mislabeling food and defrauding customers are serious crimes, and this case will help convince restaurants and seafood suppliers that it is not worth lying to customers about what is on the menu.”

“U.S. consumers expect their seafood to be correctly identified. When sellers purposefully substitute one fish species for another, they deceive consumers and cause potential food safety hazards to be overlooked or misidentified by processors or end users,” said Special Agent in Charge Justin Fielder, FDA Office of Criminal Investigations Miami Field Office. “We will continue to investigate and bring to justice those who put profits above public health.”

Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, Inc., and Anthony Charles Cvitanovich are scheduled to be sentenced on September 12, 2024.  Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, Inc. faces a maximum penalty of five years’ probation and a $500,000 fine, or not more than the greater of twice the gross gain or twice the gross loss, whichever is greater.  Cvitanovich faces a maximum penalty of three years of prison and a $10,000 fine. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee of the Southern District of Mississippi made the announcement.

The Food and Drug Administration – Office of Criminal Investigations is investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrea Jones and Senior Trial Attorney Jeremy F. Korzenik of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division are prosecuting the case.

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