BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- The owner of a defunct food distribution service based in Bridgeport was sentenced to three years in prison for defrauding three restaurant groups of millions of dollars.
Mark Berlin, 64, of Boca Raton, Florida, was sentenced on Tuesday to three years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release, according to John H. Durham, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut.
According to court documents, Berlin owned and operated Fairfield Food Services, LLC, a Bridgeport-based food distribution business that bought meat, fish, and other foods from wholesale vendors and then sold them to restaurants and retail food distributors. Between 2012 and 2015, Berlin made misrepresentations to his customers in order to secure sales, including claiming he had special arrangements with wholesale suppliers to obtain "futures contracts," and that his customers could get "locked in" low prices if they paid in advance with delivery at a later date, according to Durham.
Berlin regularly told his retail customers that he had a great deal on particular products, and that they had to pay him fast in order to obtain the deals, according to court documents. An investigation revealed that Berlin did not have "locked in" prices or "futures contracts" with wholesale suppliers, and that he frequently used victims' payments to cover his immediate cash flow needs. Instead of paying wholesale suppliers before products were delivered, he typically did not pay them for 30 to 60 days after they were delivered.
By April 2015, Berlin was unable to keep the scheme afloat and stopped providing products to retail victims, Durham said. Shortly afterwards, Fairfield Food Services declared bankruptcy and closed down. Bankruptcy filings listed a total of approximately $5.3 million owed to three restaurant groups that paid Berlin in advance for products, and hundreds of thousands of dollars owed to wholesale suppliers for products for which he had already taken delivery.
According to Durham, Berlin contends that not all of the $5.3 million owed to his retail customers was obtained by fraud. The government's position is that he obtained at least $3.9 million, and as much as $5.3 million, by fraud, according to court documents.
Berlin pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud on May 31, 2017, and has been ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $5.3 million. He is released on bond, and is ordered to report to prison on June 8, 2018.
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