YORK, Maine — A former employee of York-based lobster wholesaler Maine Coast was sentenced this week in U.S. District Court in Portland on a wire fraud charge that he shipped 50,000 pounds of lobster to a nonexistent customer in China.
U.S. Attorney Halsey B. Frank for the District of Maine reported Jonathan F. Cowles, 47, of Honolulu, Hawaii, and formerly of Rowley, Massachusetts, was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Jon D. Levy to six months in prison and three years of supervised release for wire fraud.
Cowles, who pleaded guilty Jan. 22, was ordered to pay $359,785 in restitution to Maine Coast. Cowles admitted he skimmed more than $25,000 in funds from Maine Coast while he was employed there from November 2013 to June 2014.
A related bankruptcy case in Massachusetts also provides details into the alleged operation. According to both court documents, Cowles was hired as a sales manager to handle sales in China — considered a key importer of Maine Coast lobster. He was paid a base salary plus a commission based on per-pound sales.
Owner Tom Adams stated in court documents that he had sent thousands of pounds of lobster to a Hawaii-based company, among others, and that the bills started to go unpaid starting in May 2014. Court documents indicate that, unknown to Adams, Cowles had directed the company to start making payments to his own private bank account. Court documents state that while he passed on funds he received from the Hawaiian company to Maine Coast, he kept a “margin” of about 24 cents a pound, which he did not tell Maine Coast about.
Cowles also submitted invoices for lobster to be sent to an alleged Chinese company called Dong Nan Xi Bei Co. It was subsequently discovered Cowles made up the company, an owner and administrative assistant with whom Adams corresponded. It turned out Cowles wrote the emails, feigning an “employee” with poor command of the English language.
According to the prosecution’s version of events submitted by Assistant U.S. Attorney for Maine Donald Clark, in May and June 2014 Cowles “directed the preparation of Maine Coast invoices” indicating Dong Nan was purchasing lobster. Maine Coast shipped about 49,776 pounds of lobster worth about $356,000 to China as directed by the invoices prepared at the defendant’s direction but was not paid for them.
Cowles stated in court documents that mounting personal bills were the reason for his actions.
He had faced up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. The case was investigated by the FBI and the York Police Department.
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