Seafood processor owner pleads guilty to visa fraud

Published on
September 15, 2021
The exterior of Capt. Phi's Seafood Inc.

The owner of a Baltimore, Maryland-based seafood processor has pleaded guilty to unlawful employment of undocumented workers and visa fraud.

Phillip J. “Jamie” Harrington III, owner of Capt. Phip’s Seafood Inc., pleaded guilty to the charges this week stemming from illegal actions he took from 2013 through 2018, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland.

“Over a five-year period, Capt. Phips Seafood and its owners engaged in a calculated pattern of visa fraud that not only deceived the government but also resulted in lower wages to their employees,” Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Jonathan Lenzner said. “Rather than play by the rules that other businesses follow, the defendants manipulated the H2-B visa program for the sole purpose of increasing their profits at the expense of their employees and the fair market.”

Harrington faces a maximum sentence of six months in federal prison and a USD 267,000 (EUR 226,000) fine for the unlawful employment of undocumented workers. Captain Phip’s Seafood faces a maximum sentence of five years’ probation and a USD 500,000 (EUR 424,000) fine for the unlawful employment of undocumented workers.

According to the company’s guilty plea, from 2013 through 2018, Captain Phip’s Seafood Inc. routinely sought prevailing wage determinations for multiple job descriptions, and then filed petitions for H-2B visas for only the jobs with the lowest prevailing wage, regardless of the actual work duties of the employees.

The U.S. Department of Labor must ensure all positions offered via the H-2B visa program have first been advertised to U.S.-based workers and assigned the appropriate wage to be paid (“prevailing wage”) based on the job description, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

“Captain Phip’s willfully submitted false and inaccurate job descriptions to obtain lower prevailing wages for its foreign workers. Capt. Phip’s omissions about the full scope of the job duties to be performed by its temporary foreign workers resulted in the DOL approving Capt. Phip’s to pay lower prevailing wage than it would have been authorized if Capt. Phip’s had provided truthful information,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

In 2016, Capt. Phip’s requested and received prevailing wage determinations for three positions: ice-conveyor operators with a prevailing wage of USD 12.51 (EUR 10.59); oyster-production workers with a prevailing wage of USD 16.96 (EUR 14.36); and ice-machine operators (ice-production workers) with a prevailing wage of USD 11.10 (EUR 9.40).

Capt. Phip’s then filed a petition for ice production workers with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The petition was approved and the U.S. State Department issued 24 H-2B visas to non-immigrant Mexican nationals authorizing them to work for Capt. Phip’s as ice production workers. Once the Mexican ice production workers entered the U.S., Capt. Phip’s used them for jobs beyond ice production, including for oyster processing, as maintenance workers, truck drivers, and drivers’ assistants.

“Capt. Phip’s admits that it intentionally and falsely claimed that the foreign workers would only be engaged in ice production in order to pay them the lower prevailing wage,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

During a 2017 site visit by USCIS inspectors, Capt. Phip’s H-2B workers were authorized only to engage in oyster production work.

“During the site visit, three H-2B visa beneficiaries were interviewed through an interpreter and indicated that their current duties involved ice-packing duties rather than oyster-production work,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

In August 2018, government agents interviewed Harrington, who admitted the company was not in compliance with the requirements of the H-2B visa program and that some of Capt. Phip’s H-2B workers were driving trucks and performing other duties outside the scope of their visas. The duties included performing work for other companies controlled by Philip and Jamie Harrington, including Easton Ice, Woodfield Ice Company, along with two Ocean City, Maryland, motels owned by members of the Harrington family.

“Agents pointed out to Jamie Harrington that if the H-2B applications had been truthful about the location and job duties for workers at Woodfield Ice, the prevailing wage would have been much higher because that business is in the Washington, D.C. metro area,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

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