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Mary Mahoney’s on the hook for passing off frozen, imported fish as local

Something fishy was going on at a popular seafood restaurant in Mississippi.

Federal prosecutors have charged that Mary Mahoney’s Old French House, a popular restaurant in the fishing hub of Biloxi, misrepresented foreign frozen seafood as local from the Gulf Coast for years.

Mary Mahoney’s pleaded guilty Thursday to falsely labeling seafood and wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Co-owner Anthony Charles Cvitanovic, 55, also pleaded guilty to mislabeling 17,190 pounds of seafood in 2018 and 2019.

Mary Mahoney’s Old French House restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to mislabel seafood and wire fraud. Mary Mahoney/Facebook

The company, founded in 1962, admitted that between 2013 and 2019, working with co-conspirators, including wholesalers, fraudulently sold more than 29 tonnes of frozen fish imported from Africa, India and South America.

They tricked customers into paying high prices for lake perch, tripletail, triggerfish and unicorn filefish that they thought were high-end Gulf of Mexico snapper and redfish. According to the prosecutor.

“The conspirators profited from the sale of seafood that would not have been as marketable or profitable had its actual species and origin been known,” prosecutors said.

Mahoney advertised high-end, expensive local fish, such as snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico, when in fact they were foreign fish. Mary Mahoney/Facebook

He also said the plan began in 2002.

“When people spend their hard-earned money to enjoy great local seafood from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they should get what they pay for, not frozen fish from overseas,” U.S. Attorney Todd Gee said in a statement.

“Fake food labelling and deceiving customers are serious crimes and this case will help convince restaurants and seafood suppliers that there is no point in lying to customers about what’s on their menu,” he added.

That bass lighting appears to have come to an end after a federal raid in 2019 led to the eatery’s temporary closure.

The restaurant later issued a press release saying the FDA was on site “in connection with an investigation into fish mislabeling.” According to the Biloxi Sun-Herald.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration executed a search warrant and raided the restaurant in 2019, according to the Sun Herald. Anita Lee, Hattiesburg American via Imagin Content Services, LLC

Co-owner Bobby Mahoney has not been charged with any crime, and his lawyer said it was all an accident.

“They made a mistake,” Michael Cavanaugh told the Sun Herald, calling the misbranding of the fish “just a mistake.”

“The issue has been resolved,” he added. “They’re moving forward.”

The restaurant and Cvitanovic are scheduled to be sentenced in September. Mary Mahoney’s faces up to five years probation and a $500,000 fine. Cvitanovic, who was released on bail, faces up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Cvitanovic’s lawyers also argued that the issue was fixed in 2019.

“Over the past five years, we have been in extensive discussions with the federal government about inaccurate descriptions of certain items on our menus,” Tim Holleman said.

Known for its sunroom dining and rich history, Mary Mahoney’s was named one of the 50 most beautiful restaurants in America by People magazine earlier this year. Alamy Stock Photo

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi, genetic testing of the fish by the Food and Drug Administration confirmed the fraudulent scheme, which completely defrauded customers.

The restaurant owners are owed $1.35 million, which must be forfeited to the government. The Sun Herald reported.

This family-friendly restaurant is known for its gumbo. Voted one of the 50 most beautiful restaurants It opened nationally earlier this year and is located on Highway 90 across from the casino and Hard Rock Hotel.