Federal authorities arrested the owner of one of the largest commercial fishing operations in the Northeast early Friday on charges that he illegally caught protected species of fish for years and sold them for “bags of cash.”
Carlos Rafael, sometimes referred to as “The Codfather” for his prominence in commercial fishing, is accused of lying to federal authorities about the quantities and species of fish his fleet of boats caught in order to evade quotas aimed at guaranteeing sustainable fisheries.
The businessman then allegedly sold the ill-gotten fish to a wholesaler in New York City for “bags of cash,” according to an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Rafael is accused of conspiracy and submitting falsified records to evade federal fishing quotas. Fish were sometimes placed in hidden compartments and other times mislabeled as different species in an effort to avoid quotas, according to a source familiar with the probe.
Rafael’s business, Carlos Seafood, Inc. in New Bedford, Massachusetts, is one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the Northeast, according to prosecutors.
Rafael, 64 and Debra Messier, 60, his bookkeeper, appeared before a federal magistrate in Boston on Friday afternoon. Messier was released on $10,000 bond, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s office. Rafael was ordered detained pending a hearing set for Wednesday
Efforts to reach their attorneys were not immediately successful.
The case against Rafael came together when Rafael put the business up for sale last year, according to court papers. Two undercover agents posing as organized crime figures approached him about buying the business, the documents allege.
Rafael allegedly told the agents about his “off-the-books” sale of fish for cash and boasted of earning $668,000 in just six months. During a meeting in his office in New Bedford in January 2016, Rafael and Messier, allegedly explained their scheme for skirting regulations “step by step.”
They alleged referred to the process as “the dance.”
Rafael allegedly smuggled some of the cash from the operation through Boston’s Logan International Airport to Portugal.
The case was investigated by Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization. The probe is ongoing and could result in additional arrests, said the source who spoke on the condition of anonymity.