EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 4, 2013

City man 'pardoned' for '80s fish scam

From Wire and
Staff Reports

---- — A former Gloucester fish processing company executive who pleaded guilty and served federal prison time stemming from a 1980s fishing industry scam is one of 17 people from across the country to be granted a presidential pardon by President Obama.

The list of pardons announced late Friday by The White House include James A. Bordinaro of Gloucester, who had been general manager of Gloucester’s Empire Fish Company, served 12 months in prison and paid a $55,000 fine for the scheme to illegally launder Canadian seafood. Bordinaro essentially admitted to defrauding the Defense Department by rigging government service bids and passing off Canadian-caught fish as American-landed seafood during the period between 1981 and 1989.

Bordinaro was among roughly a half dozen New England fishing industry executives who pleaded guilty to such scams, according to a 1991 report. All were charged with falsifying documents in their contracts with the Defense Personnal Support Center of Defense certifying that Canadian fish were caught by U.S. fishermen in U.S. waters, a requirement of all Defense-related government contracts.

The White House announcement Friday indicated only that Bordinaro’s sentence had been for a conspiracy to restrain, suppress and eliminate competition “in violation of the Sherman Act and conspiracy to submit false statements.” The Sherman Act prohibits business activities that federal regulators deem anti-competitive, and is basis for most antitrust litigation by the federal government

Bordinaro could not be reached for comment.

But according to federal court documents, Bordinaro, his Empire Fish Company, and one of his co-conspirators — identified as Francis J. O’Hara of F.J. O’Hara and Sons, Inc. — the scam began when began discussing and fixing Defense Personnal Support bids with other fish processors sometime around 1981.

“Each week, Bordinaro and O’Hara conferred by telephone. The two men would agree which company would be the designated low bidder and what the low bid would be,” the federal case doument reads. “The companies would then submit bids to DPSC on their designated items at the set prices and would submit complementary bids, that is, intentionally high and unsuccessful bids, on those items allotted to other co-conspirators. This intra-company conspiracy continued until September 1989.”

At the time, the DPSC required that all seafood sold to the DOD be of U.S. origin, meaning that the seafood must have been caught by a United States fishing vessel, landed in a United States port, and processed in a plant in the United States. It is not clear whether that is the case today, with the U.S. importing some 90 percent of its seafood and the Gloucester, New England and U,S. fishing industry facing increasingly dire catch limits under the regulations of the Department of Commerce and its National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Court documents from Bordinaro’s federal court case — handled through federal district court in Easton, Pa.,, in 1991 — note that, “in the early 1980s, fish producers found it increasingly difficult to supply DPSC with American-landed fish. Fish stocks were dwindling, and a 1984 World Court decision allocated better fishing grounds to Canada. “

“As a result in early 1986, Empire began to fill their DPSC contracts with Canadian-landed fish,” the court documents and testimony show. “Bordinaro conspired with others at Empire to conceal this wrongdoing by falsely certifying to DPSC that the fish was American-landed. Bordinaro acted independently from certain other bid rigging co-conspirators who also supplied Canadian origin fish to DPSC. This internal company conspiracy continued until September 1989.”

On April 12, 1991, Bordinaro, through a written plea agreement, entered pleas of guilty to “both counts of the Information,” the documments show.

Of the 17 people granted pardons on Friday, Bordinaro is the only one from Massachusetts, with the 17th pardon beneficiaries spanning 13 states in all.

Bordinaro was, however, one of just five pardon recipients who had served prison time for their offenses. The other 12 recipients had been sentenced to either probation or home confinement.

Others who had served time included, Michael J. Petri of Montrose, S.D., for a 1989 conviction of distributing cocaine; Donald B. Simon Jr., of Chattanooga, Tenn., 1982, for aiding and abetting in the “theft of an interstate shipment”; Lynn Marie Stanek of Tualatin, Ore., 1986, for unlawful use of a communication facility to distribute cocaine; and Donna Kaye Wright of Friendship, Tenn., convicted in a 1983, embezzlement case.

The White House on Friday offered no information about why Obama selected these 17 individuals for pardons other than that he believes they will lead “productive lives.”

“As he has in past years, the president granted these individuals clemency because they have demonstrated genuine remorse and a strong commitment to being law-abiding, productive citizens and active members of their communities,” said White House spokesman Matt Lehrich.

Obama had granted his first round of pardons in December 2010,to nine people convicted of such offenses as drug possession, counterfeiting and mutilating coins. He also issued two separate batches of pardons in 2011, including eight people in May for relatively minor offenses and five people that November.