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July 10, 2018

Lawsuit: Seafood company repackaged expired catch, then fired whistleblower

The former general manager of Atwood Lobster in South Thomaston is suing the seafood wholesaler, claiming he was wrongly fired after raising concerns about alleged illegal accounting and packaging practices, the Courier-Gazette reported.

Corey Thompson, of St. George, filed the lawsuit June 18 in Knox County District Court against Atwood and its parent corporation, Illinois-based Mazzetta Co., and six related companies.

Tawny Alvarez, an attorney with Portland law firm Verrill Dana who is representing all eight companies, denied the claims.

According to Thompson, his supervisors at Atwood demanded that he sell seafood at artificially deflated prices to Beach Point Processing, a Canadian processor that is named in the suit. In 2016, as Atwood was seeking a commercial loan, a lender and its consultant identified financial inefficiencies that Thompson says were a result of the deflated pricing.

When the lender then said it would consider the company's current seafood inventory as collateral for the loan, Atwood repackaged expired seafood with false expiration dates, according to Thompson.

In his suit, he claims that the pricing scheme resulted in artificial financial losses for Atwood, violating federal and state tax law, and that the repackaging was illegal.

After he raised these concerns to Mazzetta Chief Executive Officer and President Tom Mazzetta, the suit alleges, Thompson was demoted to a maintenance position in March 2017. He repeated his concerns on May 21 that year, and was fired five days later.

Thompson filed a complaint in June 2017 with the Maine Human Rights Commission. The complaint was not resolved, and now the lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages for the firing.

Thompson is represented by attorney Chad Cloutier of Rockland. Alvarez, representing the defendants, said the district court was not the proper venue was for the suit, and that Cloutier would probably refile it in Knox County Superior Court.

Mazzetta Co., founded in 1987, is a global importer and producer of shrimp, mussels, lobsters, crab and fin fish, producing more than 100 million pounds of finished seafood product each year, according to its website.

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