Phillip Carawan, has pleaded guilty in a US federal court to charges of falsely labeling $4 million (€3.6 million) worth of foreign crabmeat as product harvested in the United States, the Department of Justice said in a statement.

More than 179,872 pounds of crabmeat were sold to wholesale membership clubs and other retailers.

The fraudulent scheme artificially deflated the cost of his firm's "domestic" blue crab, giving Carawan an unacceptable economic advantage over law-abiding competitors, justice officials said.

Carawan admitted that his Capt. Neill’s Seafood firm could not and did not process sufficient quantities of domestic blue crab to meet customer demands. To make up the shortfall, Carawan and his company used foreign crabmeat to fulfill customer orders.

During the periods when the company did not have a sufficient supply of domestic crab, Carawan and Capt. Neill’s purchased crabmeat (not live crabs) from South America and Asia.

Sentencing is scheduled to take place before a US District court in January 2020.

“Today’s plea helps to ensure that American fishermen and consumers are not defrauded,” said Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.