• A Mississippi restaurant pleaded guilty to misbranding its fish.
  • It mislabeled species, and advertised imported fish as local.
  • The FDA conducted genetic testing to confirm the scheme.

An iconic Mississippi restaurant pled guilty to misbranding the species of seafood on its menu, according to the Justice Department, and passing off imported fish as locally caught.

Mary Mahoney's Old French House, founded in 1962 in Biloxi, admitted it sold over 58,7750 pounds of imported frozen fish advertised as local between 2013 and 2019, according the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District of Mississippi.

The restaurant admitted to conspiracy to misbrand seafood and wire fraud. It'll have to pay $1.35 million as part of its plea deal, The Clarion-Ledger reports.

Mahoney's co-owner and manager, Anthony Cvitanovich, also pleaded guilty to one count of misbranding seafood.

A lawyer for the restaurant declined to comment.

A lawyer for Cvitanovich, Tim Holleman, told Business Insider that the menu was corrected in 2019, and the misbranding only involved two casserole dishes where fish wasn't the primary ingredient.

He attributed the misbranding to "declining availability of red snapper" over time, which he said has affected other restaurants — though he noted "that doesn't make it right."

The FDA genetically tested the fish to confirm the scheme

Mahoney's advertised the fish as local snapper and grouper from the Gulf of Mexico, when it actually hailed from Africa (Lake Victoria Perch) and India (Unicorn Filefish), according to the DOJ.

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agents searched the restaurant in 2019, The Clarion-Ledger reports. The FDA genetically tested the fish to confirm the scheme, the DOJ said.

"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," US Attorney Todd Gee said in a statement.

Mahoney's and Cvitanovich will be sentenced on September 12. The restaurant faces a maximum of a $500,000 fine, while the charge against Cvitanovich comes with up to three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

"I've known 'em for most of my life and they're good people," Holleman said. "They made a mistake and they're paying a pretty hefty price for it."

Read the original article on Business Insider