Carlos “the Codfather” Rafael pleaded guilty Thursday to evading fishing quotas and smuggling the profits to Portugal.
“Today, I pled guilty to the charges facing me,” Rafael in a statement released just before he was scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Boston. “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’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for June 27. The U.S. attorney recommended 46 months of prison time.
“Mr. Rafael’s scheme not only compromised delicate fish populations, but also profited on the backs of his hard-working crews,” Acting United States Attorney William D. Weinreb said in a statement. “Mr. Rafael knew he was breaking the law by falsifying records, evading taxes and smuggling ill-gotten profits to Portugal. Without Mr. Rafael and his scheme, New England fishermen who work hard for honest pay can now enjoy a more level playing field.”
Rafael was arrested in February 2016 after a sting operation conducted by the the Internal Revenue Service uncovered an alleged bookkeeping scam. Rafael was accused of falsifying federal fish tickets by renaming valuable fish on tight quotas — such as American plaice, yellowtail or gray sole — and selling them as more common species such as haddock pollock.
The charges against Rafael included one count of conspiracy, 25 counts of lying to federal fishing regulators, one count of bulk cash smuggling and one count of tax evasion.
The tax evasion charge was added to Rafael’s indictment just days before he was scheduled to appear in court. The updated indictment states that from November 2014 to about October of 2015 Rafael failed to pay taxes in the sum of $108,929. Rafael spent six months in federal prison after being convicted of tax evasion in the 1980s.
As part of the plea, Rafael agreed to give up 13 boats from his fleet that had been used in illegal operations. The “assets to be forfeited specifically include, without limitation” fishing vessels Athena, My Way, Hera, Hera II, Poseidon, Lady Patricia, Destiny, Olivia & Rafaela, Hercules, Sasha Lee, Drake, Bulldog, Southern Crusader II, as well as their permits.
The list includes seven groundfish boats and 12 scallop boats. It is unclear what will happen to the assets as the forfeiture process begins after the sentencing date, but some have speculated that the boats will likely be auctioned off.
In his statement, Rafael explained that his long history with the fishing industry in New Bedford started when he was 16 years old and said that he wants the port to continue to thrive.
“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.”