Eastern Shore Seafood Co. pleads guilty to worker visa fraud

The owner of a seafood packaging plant on the River Warwick, just off the Choptank, could face a jail term and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for manipulating the visa program of H-2B worker and hired dozens of undocumented workers.

Phillip J. “Jamie” Harrington III, 50, and his company, Captain Phip’s Seafood Inc., pleaded guilty to federal charges this week. Prosecutors say Harrington manipulated the work visa program by hiring foreign workers for lower paying jobs and then using them for different jobs that should have earned them higher pay.

“Over a period of five years, Captain Phips Seafood and his owners engaged in a calculated pattern of visa fraud which not only deceived the government, but also led to lower wages for their employees,” said the Acting US Attorney Jonathan Lenzner, who prosecuted the case. “Rather than playing by the rules followed by other companies, the defendants manipulated the H2-B visa program with the sole aim of increasing their profits at the expense of their employees and the fair market.”

Captain Phip’s, located in Secretary, Md., Dorchester County, has been shelling and packaging fresh oysters since 1944, according to local business directories. A sister company, Easton Ice, also produces and distributes ice from the location.

Captain Phip’s has filled seasonal positions with Temporary Foreign Workers under the H-2B Worker Visa Program for over a decade. According to the company’s guilty plea, from 2013 to 2018 “Capt. Phip’s willfully submitted false and inaccurate job descriptions to obtain lower effective wages for its foreign workers. Captain Phip’s omissions regarding all of the duties to be performed by his Temporary Foreign Workers led the US Department of Labor to approve Captain Phip’s to pay current wages lower than what would have been allowed had Captain Phip’s provided truthful information. », Declared the public prosecutor.

For example, several Mexican workers were hired in 2016 as ice machine operators, for whom wages were set at $ 11.10 per hour. But the employees were in charge of the oyster production, for which the wage should have been $ 16.96 per hour. The workers were all paid an hourly rate of $ 11.10, regardless of other duties.

Jamie Harrington also pleaded guilty to hiring around 89 people he knew to be undocumented foreign workers for his other businesses during the same 2013-2018 period. Harrington and other family members also controlled Easton Ice, Woodfield Ice Company, Inc., two motels in Ocean City, MD, and a half-dozen other companies known together as the Harrington Companies. Prosecutors said undocumented employees and H-2B visa workers were routinely forced to work for these other companies.

According to prosecutors, Harrington continued to employ several undocumented workers even after knowing they had been subject to removal proceedings by immigration officials because they did not have legal status to be present or work in the United States.

When Harrington and Captain Phip’s Seafood are sentenced on November 23, Harrington faces up to six months in federal prison and a fine of $ 267,000. The company faces up to five years probation and a fine of $ 500,000.

-Meg Walburn Viviano

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