$2 Billion Lawsuit Alleges Cooke Inc. Violated U.S. Fishing Laws

By Larry Chowning.

A $2 billion “False Claims Act” lawsuit alleging “figurehead fraud” against the Canadian seafood giant Cooke Inc. of St. John, New Brunswick, was unsealed in April in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan.

The suit alleges Cooke Inc., Omega Protein, Alpha VesselCo. Holdings, Inc., and others have been violating the American Fisheries Act (AFA) (1998) and Jones Act (1920), which allows only U.S. citizens to fish in U.S. waters.

The suit stems from an approximately $500 million purchase of Omega Protein of Reedville, Va., and all its assets in 2017 to Cooke Inc. The 57-page suit was filed by the New York law firm of Holwell, Shuster & Goldberg LLO (HS&G). Attorney Brendon DeMay of HS&G is requesting a jury trial.

The plaintiffs in the suit are Chris Manthey and W. Benson Chiles. Manthey is a professional investigator and researcher. In 1993, Manthey co-founded Back Track Report, a private investigation firm in New York focused on pre-deal background research on corporate executives.

Chiles is a consultant who has worked with environmental and conservation groups on issues relating to commercial and recreational fishing in U. S. waters. Chiles occasionally receives non-public information regarding corporations operating in the U. S. commercial fishing industry, including defendants Cooke Inc. and Omega, the suit states.

The plaintiffs say they are suing on behalf of the United States government, including the Maritime Administration (MARAD) of the United States Department of Transportation and the United States Coast Guard. MARAD determines whether applicants satisfy AFA vessel citizenship requirements.

Law Suit

As of Sept. 30, 2017, Omega Protein Inc. was a domestic, publicly traded company that owned a fleet of 37 commercial fishing vessels, 27 spotter aircraft to spot schools of fish, three fish-processing operations, and Omega Shipyard in Moss Point, Miss., where the companies’ vessels were built and repaired.

read more at nationalfisherman.com.