Two Valley Residents Busted in Catfish-Smuggling Ring

Two Valley residents, as well as a Florida man, have been named in a 28-count federal indictment for smuggling hundreds of thousands of pounds of seafood into the country illegally.

Considering the possible penalty of 20 years in prison, they may have been better off smuggling cocaine.

The indictment, which was handed down this morning by a federal grand jury in Washington D.C., claims that Karen L. Blyth of Paradise Valley, David H. M. Phelps of Scottsdale, and John J. Popa of Pensacola, Florida, used two companies owned by Blyth to falsely label more than 325,000 pounds of fish and sell it to costumers in Alabama and Florida.

According to the Justice Department, the trio were defrauding customers by taking inexpensive catfish fillets and mislabeling the packages as sole. The bootleg fish was then distributed to customers in Alabama and the Florida panhandle by CSE Inc., a company owned by Blyth.

The three also are accused of smuggling hundreds of thousands of pounds of  the catfish it sold from Vietnam, knowing the fish would be mis-labeled before it was imported to avoid paying a hefty import tax.

In 2003, a tariff was placed on all catfish coming into the United States from Vietnam because Vietnamese catfish were being sold cheaper than the market price here at the time. To avoid paying the federally mandated 63.88 percent duty on the fish, the three sent a Vietnamese company false shipping labels and several other false documents, the indictment claims.

In total, the three have each been charged with 28 counts that include smuggling and false-labeling. If convicted they could face up to 20 years in federal prison, as well as a $250,000 fine for each smuggling charge.

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James King
Contact: James King