Metro

‘The Codfather,’ a New Bedford fishing mogul, pleads guilty

PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS/file
Haddock on sale at a fish market.

A New Bedford fishing mogul known to locals as The Codfather pleaded guilty Thursday to mislabeling hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish, a scheme that enabled him to evade federal fishing regulations and boost his profits.

Carlos Rafael, 65, could face 46 to 57 months in prison along with a $250,000 fine under sentencing guidelines that factor in his crimes, his personal history, and his decision to plead guilty. He is scheduled to be sentenced June 27.

“I am not proud of the things I did that brought me here, but admitting them is the right thing to do, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of my actions,” Rafael said in a statement, his first public comments on the case since his arrest last year.

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Rafael also said he was proud of the jobs his businesses helped create and was honored to have worked in the New Bedford fishing industry, one of the most vibrant ports in the country, where he started out cutting fish when he was 16.

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“Today, I have a single goal. To protect our employees and all of the people and businesses who rely on our companies from the consequences of my actions,” he said. “I will do everything I can to make sure that the Port of New Bedford remains America’s leading fishing port.”

Rafael, as the owner of Carlos Seafood, operated 32 fishing vessels and owned 44 permits, making his business one of the largest commercial fishing companies in the country. Some of his company’s assets could be forfeited.

Assistant US Attorney Andrew E. Lelling described Rafael’s scheme in court Thursday: Rafael would falsify records and lie to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which monitors the fishing industry, and would underreport how much fish he caught or mislabel it as a different, cheaper species. He would then sell that fish to a wholesaler in New York, who paid him more than $600,000 in one deal.

Rafael did not report that income. Instead, according to Lelling, he conspired with Antonio Freitas, a deputy sheriff from the Bristol County sheriff’s office, to smuggle a portion of the proceeds to Portugal. Freitas is on unpaid leave from the sheriff’s office, has pleaded not guilty, and is awaiting trial.

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Authorities say they uncovered Rafael’s scheme when he began talking about it to two Russian gangsters expressing interest in buying his company.

“Unbeknownst to Mr. Rafael, the two men were undercover [Internal Revenue Service] agents,” Lelling said.

Rafael pleaded guilty to conspiracy, 23 counts of false labeling and fish identification, two counts of falsifying federal records, one count of bulk cash smuggling, and one count of tax evasion.

Authorities say his scheme not only cheated his captains and workers out of a share of his profits, but undermined fishing quotas that are meant to preserve a sustainable fishing industry. “Mr. Rafael’s scheme not only compromised delicate fish populations, but also profited on the backs of his hard-working crew,” said Acting US Attorney William D. Weinreb. “Without Mr. Rafael and his scheme, New England fishermen who work hard for honest pay can now enjoy a more level playing field.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com.