Longtime Massachusetts fishing kingpin Carlos Rafael will pay a $3 million civil penalty, and sell his fishing vessels and permits under a final settlement with federal authorities.
Now serving a 46-month prison sentence for falsifying landing reports, violating fishing limits, tax violations and cash smuggling, Rafael will surrender his seafood dealer permit by Sept. 1.
His New Bedford, Mass., business Carlos Seafood and associated entities will stop commercial fishing by the end of 2019, although they can continue to catch scallops until March 31, 2020. Rafael’s fleet and limited-access federal fishing permits must be sold by the end of 2020, with all transactions to be reviewed and approved by NOAA, according to a statement from the agency.
The settlement also punishes 17 captains who worked for Rafael, with suspensions of their operator permits, probation terms and the threat of being permanently banned from the industry if they are found violating regulations again, according to NOAA.
The settlement is structured so Rafael’s permits and vessels can be returned to working under new ownership — a critical worry for New Bedford and the larger New England fishing community, which warned outright confiscation of those assets would cripple the industry.
“Today’s settlement of the government’s civil case against Carlos Rafael accomplishes NOAA’s chief objective of permanently removing Mr. Rafael from participation in federal fisheries. The settlement also clears the way for Mr. Rafael’s fishing assets that have been tied up in this litigation to be returned to productive use,” said Chris Oliver, NOAA's assistant administrator for fisheries, in announcing the settlement.
“This settlement also holds accountable the vessel captains who now face suspensions, probationary periods, additional monitoring and reporting requirements, and the threat of a lifetime ban from the industry if they intentionally violate federal fisheries regulations again,” Oliver said. “It also serves as a reminder that no one is exempt from the rules.”
Rafael was nabbed in February 2016 with a sting by the federal Internal Revenue Service, after undercover agents posing as Russians with organized crime connections solicited the dealer with an offer to buy his seafood business. In one court affidavit, an IRS agent told how Rafael bragged about his system of falsifying invoices and other records to sell fish species beyond what was permitted by the quota systems.
“Very easy, we own the boats,” Rafael told the agents.
The captains who worked with Rafael will serve operator permit suspensions between 20 and 200 days, depending on the number and severity of the violations in which they were implicated. During those suspensions they are not allowed to work on federally permitted vessels, either at sea or at the dock unloading.
In addition, the captains must serve probationary periods of one to three years, and agree to monitoring and periodic reporting to NOAA. If they commit an “intentional or reckless violation” during that probation, they will be permanently banned from the industry, NOAA officials say.
News of the settlement came days after another civil settlement when Rafael agreed to pay $511,000 to wind up Coast Guard pollution complaints against his boat Vila Nova do Corvo II. The Coast Guard charged that the vessel discharged oily bilge waste overboard at sea while harvesting scallops, and that its used fuel filters were likewise dumped over the side.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Marshal’s Service auctioned two of Rafael’s boats with their assorted permits – the Olivia & Rafael and the Lady Patricia. In the original federal sentencing, Rafael had been ordered to forfeit four vessels to the government, but a final settlement allowed two of those, the Bulldog and Southern Crusader II, to be released to his wife Conceicao Rafael and other New Bedford fishermen in shared ownership.