Friday, May 27, 2011

Former seafood company executive gets 13 months for mislabeling fish, selling expired oysters

MOBILE, Alabama -- After a Thursday hearing dominated by a recounting of the defendant’s numerous medical ailments, a federal judge in Mobile sentenced a former seafood company executive to 13 months in prison for his role in a fraud involving mislabeled fish.
John J. Popa, a former professional wrestler, was the last of 3 defendants to be sentenced in U.S. District Court.
Judge Ginny Granade noted Popa’s “substantial assistance” to investigators and recommended that he be placed in a prison facility equipped to deal with his health problems.
Popa was vice president of a Pensacola wholesale operation named Reel Fish and Seafood, which sold to restaurants and stores along the Gulf Coast. He pleaded guilty in September, admitting that he passed off imports of sutchi, swai and basa as grouper and other more expensive seafood from October 2004 until November 2006.
Popa also admitted the he instructed employees to change the harvest dates of expired oysters purchased from suppliers in Bayou La Batre and Bon Secour.
Popa, who recently moved to Las Vegas, said he lost millions of dollars as a result of his choices. But he added that he lamented the loss of his integrity more.
“I was guilty of this. And I allowed myself to really be influenced by money and intimidation,” he said. “I compromised my principles, and because of it, I’ve lost everything.”
Federal Defender Carlos Williams sought a sentence that would have allowed his client to avoid prison. Jessica Plasse, an advanced practice registered nurse from Connecticut who began treating Popa last year, testified by phone that he suffers from a large number of medical conditions. Among them: Type II diabetes, hypertension, asthma, sleep apnea, morbid obesity and vision difficulties.
Plasse said that while the conditions aren’t rare, it’s unusual to battle so many simultaneously. She said that prison likely would endanger his health.
“I think he would be extremely burdensome to the staff there,” she said. “I think he would be at great risk of hypoglycemia. I think it would be very difficult to get his blood sugar in any type of control at all.”
Assistant Attorney General Susan Park countered that officials from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons have certified that they have the capacity to care for Popa.
Park argued that a sentence of a year and 11 months in prison, which was half the punishment called for under advisory guidelines, would be fair and would take into account the assistance he provided to law enforcement.

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