Mississippi Restaurant Confesses to Defrauding Customers

A Mississippi seafood joint called Mary Mahoney’s has admitted to passing off foreign-caught, refrozen junk fish as premium, locally caught species like snapper and grouper. 

From December 2013 to November 2019, the restaurant was accused of the staggering offense of selling over 29 tons of mislabeled fish. The legal consequences are severe, with the actual amount of the sanctions assessed against Mahoney’s potentially reaching half a million dollars. Additionally, the restaurant may face an additional five years of probation.

Co-owner and manager Charles Cvitanovich admitted to selling inexpensive fish as select species but only in 2018 and 2019. The maximum penalties for the 55-year-old are three years in jail and $10,000 in fines. Even though the restaurant was located in Biloxi, a town with a robust commercial fishing industry, their “fresh catch” came from delivery trucks. 

The restaurant, according to US prosecutors, lied to its patrons about the fish it purchased from an unnamed local source in Biloxi.

In exchange for their guilty plea to a single felony charge of conspiring to deceive consumers by mislabeling seafood and wire fraud, the restaurant has now consented to forfeit $1.35 million to the federal government. 

Anthony ‘Tony’ Cvitanovich, another co-owner, also entered a guilty plea to a felony charge of conspiracy to mislabel fish. Over five years, from 2013 until the federal authorities conducted their raid in November 2019, Mahoney’s imported over 29 tons of tripletail, lake perch, unicorn filefish, and triggerfish from South America, India, and Africa. Prosecutors claim that the fish were mislabeled as premium Gulf red snapper, snapper, and redfish.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee of the Southern District emphasized that consumers should receive the quality of the products they pay for and that it is a severe violation to mislead or defraud consumers. Seafood vendors and eateries will learn from this case that it’s not worth it to mislead consumers about the ingredients used in their dishes.