A Bristol County sheriff’s deputy was arrested Monday and charged with smuggling thousands of dollars to Portugal for a New Bedford fishing mogul who was allegedly trying to hide his profits from illegal fish sales.
Federal officials allege that Antonio M. Freitas, who was also a member of a Homeland Security task force, used his security clearance at Logan International Airport to sneak cash overseas.
On Feb. 5, for instance, Freitas and his fiancee allegedly carried $17,500 in cash-filled bags past airport security and boarded a flight to Portugal. After he arrived, he allegedly deposited the money into a bank account owned by Carlos Rafael, a businessman called the “Codfather” because he presides over one of the biggest commercial fishing concerns in the United States.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson called the indictment a “huge, huge disappointment” and said he would place Freitas on unpaid leave from his $57,000-a-year job.
“It came as a complete shock,” Hodgson said. “It’s a shocker for everybody that worked with him.”
For the past 13 years, Freitas has been assigned full time to work on criminal investigations for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to the sheriff’s office. Overtime from the federal agency apparently boosted his income past $75,600 in 2014, records show.
Freitas appeared Monday in US District Court in Worcester and was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.
His court-appointed lawyer, Daniel W. Cronin of Worcester, said Freitas intends to plead not guilty at his arraignment. Officials said he and Rafael are scheduled to be arraigned Thursday. “He’s adamant that he’s innocent, and he’ll certainly have his day in court,” Cronin said in a telephone interview.
Freitas, a Taunton resident who turns 46 this month, was indicted on one count of bulk cash smuggling and one count of structuring the export of US currency, according to the US attorney’s office.
Also named in the complaint is Rafael, a 64-year-old Dartmouth resident who owns Carlos Seafood Inc. in New Bedford and 32 fishing vessels through independent corporate shells, according to court records. He was previously arrested in February. But on Monday he was indicted on 25 counts of falsifying documents, conspiracy, and bulk cash smuggling.
Federal investigators said they uncovered the alleged scheme by pretending to be organized crime figures interested in buying his business. Authorities claim that Rafael lied to federal regulators about his fish hauls from 2012 to January. Rafael allegedly claimed to have netted haddock or another common species when he was really harvesting cod, sole, or another fish restricted by fishing quotas.
His company would buy the fish — from the boats that he owns — at the lower price of haddock, but then sell the more lucrative fish for higher market prices to buyers in New York.
Rafael allegedly told undercover agents that he reaped hundreds of thousands of dollars through the scheme.
Authorities said Rafael stashed some profits from those sales in bank accounts in his native Portugal. And authorities said he tapped people such as Freitas, who had access to restricted areas of Logan Airport, to help him do it.
Prosecutors say Rafael spent part of the money on fixing his parents’ house, and his own, and bought a $100,000 pleasure boat. Rafael is a US citizen.
Freitas, who speaks Portuguese, is a decorated law enforcement officer who Hodgson said had been well regarded in the sheriff’s office. Known as Tony, he received a state honor for dragging his partner to safety during a 2001 riot at the House of Correction in Dartmouth. He also was a member of the Bristol County sheriff’s honor guard.
Hodgson said he learned of the federal investigation a month ago and placed Freitas on paid leave. Now that he has been indicted, Hodgson said, he would move to change that to unpaid leave.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement did not respond to a request for comment, but Hodgson said the federal agency had overseen Freitas. “He’s been working with them all these years, and they’ve been supervising him,” Hodgson said.