Home Entertainment Famous Mississippi fish restaurant confesses to scamming customers for years

Famous Mississippi fish restaurant confesses to scamming customers for years

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A Mississippi seafood restaurant duped diners hook, line and sinker by telling them the fish they were eating was fresh, when it was in fact imported frozen produce.

Despite the restaurant’s location in Biloxi, the town home to a thriving commercial fishing industry, the only catch the owners made was from the delivery truck, as tons of frozen food were brought into the kitchens ready to be served up. 

Restaurant-goers of Mary Mahoney’s Old French House Restaurant, a Biloxi landmark since it opened in 1964, were none the wiser and never suspected anything fishy was going on behind closed doors. 

Instead, they would take to social media and brag about the latest catch they’d enjoyed at the legendary venue, believing it to have come straight from the waters of the Gulf of Mexico

Mary Mahoney's admitted to selling foreign, frozen fish as fresh seafood caught locally

Mary Mahoney’s admitted to selling foreign, frozen fish as fresh seafood caught locally

The Biloxi restaurant will forfeit $1.35 million after defrauding customers

The Biloxi restaurant will forfeit $1.35 million after defrauding customers 

Federal prosecutors allege, and the restaurant has confessed, that it bought the seafood from an unidentified Biloxi local supplier and misrepresented it to unsuspecting customers, reeling them in.

The restaurant has now agreed to forfeit $1.35 million to the federal government after pleading guilty to one felony charge of conspiring to defraud customers through mislabeling seafood and wire fraud. 

Co-owner Anthony ‘Tony’ Cvitanovich also pleaded guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to mislabel seafood.

From 2013 until November 2019, when federal agents raided the restaurant, Mahoney’s purchased more than 29 tons of lake perch, tripletail, triggerfish and unicorn filefish from Africa, India or South America. 

The fish were falsely sold as premium Gulf red snapper, snapper and redfish, according to the government’s charges. 

But it was more like red herring, than red snapper.  

From 2013 until November 2019, Mahoney's duped customers saying they were being fed fresh fish when it was frozen and purchased in Africa, India, or South America

From 2013 until November 2019, Mahoney’s duped customers saying they were being fed fresh fish when it was frozen and purchased in Africa, India, or South America

Between 2013 and 2019, the restaurant misrepresented more than 29 tons of fish. Pictured, inside

Between 2013 and 2019, the restaurant misrepresented more than 29 tons of fish. Pictured, inside

‘The conspirators thereby benefited from the sale of seafood that would not have been as marketable nor as profitably sold if its actual species and origin had been known,’ say federal prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi. 

Around 15 to 20 agents from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) carried out an early morning raid of the restaurant in 2019. They asked employees to leave just as s they prepped for lunch. 

At the time, Cvitanovich speculated that the investigation was related to fish but had dismissed the issue as a trivial one, not realizing seriousness of the alleged crimes.

Despite the charges alleging bait-and-switch, it appeared to be business as usual at the historic restaurant following the plea agreement. 

Bobby Mahoney, the co-owner and public face of the restaurant, was not charged and has declined to comment on the charges.

The restaurant, founded by the late Mary Mahoney and her brother Andrew Cvitanovich, has been passed down to their heirs.

Diners have been eating at the restaurant since it opened in 1964

Diners have been eating at the restaurant since it opened in 1964

The restaurant is something of a local landmark in the area

The restaurant is something of a local landmark in the area 

Attorney, Michael Cavanaugh, described the misbranding of fish as ‘a glitch’.

‘They made a mistake. It was resolved. They’re moving on,’ he said to the Clarion Ledger.

Anthony Cvitanovich remains free on an unsecured bond pending his sentencing in September. He faces a maximum of three years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Gulfport attorney Tim Holleman, representing Cvitanovich, said that discussions with the federal government had been ongoing for five years over the inaccurate menu descriptions.

‘Over the past five years, we have had extensive discussions with the federal government over inaccurate, entree descriptions of a certain item on our menu,’  Holleman said. ‘This issue was immediately corrected five years ago.’

‘Mary Mahoney’s will continue doing what we have done best since 1964, which is serving our valued customers with impeccable service. We take pride in serving the highest quality steaks and seafood in a beautifully preserved, historic home.’

Mary Mahoney’s continues to operate with what it says is a  commitment to serving high-quality steaks and seafood in its historic setting. 

The FDA, which regulates food safety and runs a mandatory fish inspection program, underscored the seriousness of the crime. 

Southern District U.S. Attorney Todd W. Gee issued a statement emphasizing that customers deserve to get what they pay for and that mislabeling and defrauding customers are serious offenses, hoping that the case serves as a deterrent to other restaurants and seafood suppliers.

‘When people spend their hard-earned dollars to enjoy the incredible local seafood on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they should get what they paid for, not frozen fish from overseas. 

‘Mislabeling food and defrauding customers are serious crimes, and this case will help convince restaurants and seafood suppliers that it is not worth lying to customers about what is on the menu.’

Recent reviews for the restaurant have a distinctly average flavor with the venue swimming against the tide of public opinion.

‘Although this restaurant has a good reputation on the gulf coast, it seems that is what draws the business – not the quality of the food,’ wrote one on TripAdvisor.

‘Food was bland. Over priced for what you get,’ added another.

‘Very over-rated, and were very disappointed. The side dish  was unimaginative, and the snapper was dry. Definitely not worth the hype or the outrageous price for a mediocre meal,’ wrote a diner in April. 

‘The chicken pieces tasted like canned chicken. My husband got a steak with a crab cake. He said it was under seasoned and the crab cake tasted canned as well,’ reviewed another restaurant goer in February.



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