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Former Bristol sheriff’s deputy sentenced to one year in prison for smuggling illegal fishing profits

A federal judge sentenced a former Bristol County sheriff’s deputy Thursday to a year in prison and three years of supervised release for smuggling thousands of dollars in profits to Portugal for a Massachusetts fishing magnate who was trying to dodge fishing rules, prosecutors said.

Antonio Freitas, a longtime task force officer with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, smuggled $17,500 through airport security in February 2016, according to a statement from the US attorney’s office in Boston. Freitas, according to the statement, later deposited that money in a Portuguese bank account belonging to Carlos Rafael, a New Bedford commercial fishing mogul known as the “Codfather.”

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In July, Freitas, 47, of Taunton was found guilty of one count of bulk cash smuggling and one count of structuring the export of US currency. Freitas was a veteran of the sheriff’s department; he started at that office in 2000, and worked there until he was suspended without pay when he was arrested in 2016. He was fired after his conviction in July, according to the sheriff’s office.

Rafael was the owner of Carlos Seafood and owned 32 fishing boats and 44 fishing permits, making him the proprietor of one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the nation, prosecutors said.

Authorities said for years Rafael routinely circumvented federal fishing rules intended to ensure the sustainability of fish species. Between 2012 and January 2016, Rafael lied to regulators about the quantity and species of fish his boats caught, submitted fake documents to authorities, and sold most of the fish his vessels caught to a wholesale business in New York City in exchange for bags of cash, prosecutors said.

Rafael told undercover agents that his dealings with the New York buyer yielded $668,000 in cash, which he then smuggled to Portugal to skirt US taxation, according to the attorney office’s statement.

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Rafael pleaded guilty in March to mislabeling hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish.

In September, Rafael was sentenced to 46 months in prison and three years of supervised release, during which he cannot work in the fishing industry. He was also ordered to pay a fine of $200,000, restitution of $108,929, and to forfeit four fishing vessels and the permits associated with them.

In July, Bristol County Sheriff Thomas Hodgson was ordered to appear at a civil contempt hearing after he was two hours late to testify in Freitas’s smuggling trial. Hodgson, who was the only defense witness in the trial, told jurors that Rafael held no sway over the staffing and promotions at his department, including the promotion of Freitas. Last month, a federal judge determined Hodgson was not at fault for his tardiness.

During a phone interview Thursday, Hodgson said “I don’t believe looking back that there was a way that I could’ve possibly known” about Freitas’s behavior.

“Anytime we have someone convicted of this kind of a thing it’s not only a disappointment, but it really steps outside our standards, and, so, yeah, it’s obviously not something we’re happy about,” he said.


Maria Cramer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Danny McDonald can be reached at daniel.mcdonald@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.