A federal judge in Boston on Wednesday ordered Carlos Rafael, the New Bedford fishing mogul known as “The Codfather,” to forfeit his interests in four lucrative vessels and their associated fishing permits, which are valued at nearly $2.3 million.
The order comes after US District Judge William G. Young last month sentenced Rafael, 65, to nearly four years in prison for tax evasion and flouting fishing quotas.
“His overall strategy was to use his financial leverage, which he generated through his illegal behavior, to preserve his business while other fishing businesses were collapsing around him,” Young wrote in a 16-page ruling. “While federal quotas for groundfish dropped over the years, Rafael’s illegal catch grew, which ultimately gave him a competitive advantage over other hard-working, honest fishermen.”
Rafael asserted that he mislabeled nearly 800,000 pounds of fish to protect workers whose jobs were threatened by limits on dwindling cod stocks. The case, one of the largest involving violations of fishing regulations, could determine whether hundreds of other fishermen can continue working out of New Bedford.
Young’s ruling did not address what happens to Rafael’s fishing permits, the source of much anticipation in the industry.
Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will ultimately decide the fate of the permits. Those officials are also considering whether to assess additional civil penalties against Rafael.
Officials at NOAA declined to comment Wednesday. Neither lawyers representing Rafael nor federal prosecutors responded to requests for comment.
Rafael, who owns one of the largest groundfishing fleets in the United States, evaded federal quotas by falsely reporting cod as less valuable fish. Prosecutors had asked Young to make Rafael forfeit 13 of his vessels and their permits, which are worth more than $19 million.
But because nine of his boats targeted scallops and were not part of the illegal scheme, Young ruled that he could not order those boats confiscated.
Environmental advocates and officials from groups that represent fishermen said they weren’t surprised by the penalties.
“I’m not shocked, but I don’t think anyone believes this is over,” said Vito Giacalone, policy director of the Northeast Seafood Coalition in Gloucester.
Megan Herzog, a lawyer at the Conservation Law Foundation, urged the government to use the fines against Rafael to improve monitoring of the fishery and help those hurt by his crimes.
“By reinvesting proceeds associated with this case into stronger monitoring and redistributing Mr. Rafael’s forfeited quota among the fishermen harmed by his egregious crimes, we can begin to turn the page on this dark chapter in New England’s fisheries,” she said.
Young’s order will require Rafael to forfeit his shares in the vessels Bull Dog, Olivia & Rafaela, Lady Patricia, and Southern Crusader II, along with their four permits and associated “endorsements” that allow each vessel to fish certain species.
It was unclear whether his wife and business partner would be able to retain their shares in the boats and permits, which Rafael co-owns with them.
Officials in New Bedford have urged the federal government to keep the permits within the city and not reissue them elsewhere.
The city’s mayor, Jon Mitchell, said he thought Young’s order sent the right message.
“Rafael richly deservers the punishment that he received,” he said. “He engaged in a prolonged and substantial fraud that really undermined the entire regulatory system.”
But he and others remained concerned about what NOAA will ultimately decide to do with the permits.
“This isn’t the final chapter,” Mitchell said.David Abel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davabel.