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Eastern Shore seafood processor sentenced for federal visa fraud

An Eastern Shore seafood processing and ice production business has been fined $240,000 and sentenced to three years of probation for visa fraud related to the employment of temporary workers.

In addition, the owner of Capt. Phip’s Seafood Inc., Phillip J. “Jamie” Harrington III, was sentenced to a year’s probation and fines totaling $15,000 for employing undocumented workers. Harrington, 50, of Dorchester County also must perform 100 hours of community service under the sentence handed down Tuesday by U.S. District Court Judge Ellen L. Hollander.

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Both Harrington and Capt. Phip’s also must take part in a verification program for their employees and are barred from using the H-2B visa program, according to the sentences, announced Tuesday by Erek L. Barron, the U.S. attorney for the District of Maryland, and other federal officials. The fines were paid Tuesday.

Harrington did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment.

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Capt. Phip’s, which produces and distributes ice and processes seafood in the Warwick River town of Secretary, has participated for more than a decade in the H-2B work visa program, obtaining non-agricultural temporary foreign workers to fill seasonal positions. Harrington has owned the business since March 2019, when he took over for his father, Philip J. Harrington Jr., who owned the business until his death in February 2018.

From 2013 through 2018, Capt. Phip’s routinely sought prevailing wage determinations for multiple job descriptions, then filed petitions for H-2B visas for only the jobs with the lowest prevailing wage, regardless of actual work duties, according to the company’s guilty plea. The business willfully submitted false and inaccurate job descriptions to obtain lower prevailing wages for its foreign workers, the plea said.

In one case in 2016, the business requested prevailing wage determinations for ice conveyor operators with a prevailing wage of $12.51; oyster production workers with a prevailing wage of $16.96; and ice machine operators, or ice production workers, with a prevailing wage of $11.10.

Capt. Phip’s then filed a petition for ice production workers with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and was issued 24 H-2B visas for Mexican nationals authorized as ice production workers. But Capt. Phip’s used the workers for other jobs entitled to higher wages, such as oyster processors, maintenance workers, truck drivers and drivers’ assistants.

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Government agents visiting the Secretary plant in 2017 found workers authorized for oyster production instead packing ice. Other workers were driving trucks and delivering ice for another Harrington business, Easton Ice Co., instead of processing oysters as authorized.

Agents found similar violations in August 2018, when workers were found performing duties outside the scope of their visas at other Harrington-controlled businesses, including two Ocean City motels.

Capt. Phip’s filed petitions for H-2B visas for about 142 nonimmigrant workers between 2013 and 2018. The business has not participated in the program since at least January 2019.

Harrington admitted in his plea agreement that from 2013 through August 2018 the company hired and employed workers without lawful immigration status at several other businesses involved in ice production, seafood processing, rental machinery, housing development, oyster farming and other ventures. Most were Mexican citizens, including some who entered the U.S. lawfully and overstayed visas and some who never had lawful status, including about 89 undocumented workers.

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