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Eastern Shore seafood company pleads guilty to manipulating guest worker visa program

An Eastern Shore seafood company and its owner have pleaded guilty to employing undocumented workers and manipulating a seasonal foreign worker program so that many employees received substandard wages, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.

The company, Capt. Phip’s Seafood Inc., “engaged in a calculated pattern of visa fraud” over a 5-year period, acting Maryland U.S. Attorney Jonathan Lenzner said in a news release.

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The company and its owner — Phillip J. “Jamie” Harrington III, 50, of Dorchester — are to be sentenced Nov. 23 in U.S. District Court in Baltimore.

The company had been using the H2-B visa program, a popular program in which hundreds of workers, many from Mexico, come to Maryland each year to fill jobs in seafood processing and other industries.

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According to a plea agreement, Captain Phip’s solicited workers slotted for low pay — such as ice machine operators — and then used the employees for jobs that were supposed to be higher-paying, such as oyster processing, truck driving and maintenance.

Capt. Phip’s, which is located in Secretary, Dorchester County, produces ice as well as processing seafood.

“Rather than play by the rules that other businesses follow, the defendants manipulated the H2-B visa program for the sole purpose of increasing their profits at the expense of their employees and the fair market,” Lenzner said in the release.

Harrington could not be reached Wednesday through the ice and seafood company.

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His father, Philip J. Harrington, Jr. was Capt. Phip’s owner until his death in February 2018, the U.S. attorney’s office said. It said the son told agents he was “running the business” before succeeding his father as owner in March 2019.

In 2018, the younger Harrington admitted to government agents that the company “was not in compliance with the requirements of the H-2B visa program and that some of Capt. Phip’s H-2B workers were driving trucks or performing other duties outside the scope of their visas,” according to the news release.

It said he also admitted in his plea agreement to employing undocumented workers. A government records analysis showed that “approximately 89 undocumented workers” were employed by his companies between 2013 and 2018. The government says he owns businesses in various industries, including rental machinery and housing development.

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