Christine Haughney covers corruption and criminal behavior as part of the Zero Point Zero Production series Food Crimes.
Federal authorities are widening the net in their investigation of a New England seafood mogul colloquially known as “the Codfather.”
Carlos Rafael, operator of one of the country’s largest commercial fishing businesses, was arrested on February 26 on conspiracy charges connected to an alleged scheme to sell illegally caught fish and conceal the proceeds.
Now, officials have shifted their attention to a possible co-conspirator in the fraud case: a New York City wholesaler based at the Fulton Fish Market in the Bronx.
A newly released affidavit in the Rafael case appears to implicate Michael Perretti of South Street Seafood as a participant in the scheme. Perretti has not been charged in the case. The document, which details the sworn testimony of an undercover IRS agent, alleges that the wholesaler purchased Rafael’s illegally caught fish in cash and took steps to keep the transactions off the books. Investigators recently raided Perretti’s offices at the Fulton Fish Market, according to the seafood-business website Undercurrent News.
While the affidavit only refers to the NYC wholesaler as “Michael” and “Perretti” (never the full name), sources in law enforcement and the fishing industry confirm that they believe Michael Perretti is the wholesaler mentioned. Perretti did not return a call for comment to his office at the Fulton Fish Market.
“He [Michael] buys a lot of fish. You can become a laundromat. You’ll never find a better laundromat than this motherfucker.”
This latest investigation of Perretti has raised practical questions for New York area fish suppliers who depend on him to supply fish to many of the tristate area’s retailers.
Louis Rozzo, owner of the fish supplier F. Rozzo & Sons and Perretti’s cousin, says that Perretti tends to supply to local retail stores. Rozzo, who supplies fish to many of the NYC’s top restaurants, including Le Bernardin and Daniel, says that he occasionally buys from Perretti. “I know him as being a really nice guy and giving me high-quality fish,” says Rozzo.
Perretti, who is in his 50s, is a longtime fixture at the Fulton Fish Market. Herb Slavin, the 85-year-old patriarch of M. Slavin & Sons, who has worked at the market for 71 years, says he had seen Perretti at the fish market since he was a teenager and that Perretti had a reputation for being very shrewd.
“I know him since he was maybe 15 years old. He’s a very astute businessman,” says Slavin. “He calculates to the penny.”
It’s not the first time that Perretti has drawn the attention of law enforcement. He pleaded guilty in 2000 to one count of fraud for selling bass that was tainted with PCBs from the Hudson River. He was sentenced in 2001 to two years’ probation, which included six months of home confinement, according to court records. Joseph DeMarco, the prosecutor on Perretti’s case, recalled that Perretti had worked with his friends and relatives on that case.
Despite that earlier legal setback, Perretti had risen to become a board member at the Fulton Fish Market.
Perretti’s alleged connection to Rafael is outlined in the affidavit released by the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston. During conversations with undercover agents, Rafael described working with a man referred to as Michael and Perretti who is a New York City–based fish wholesaler. Rafael described how Michael “sent me a bag of jingles,” and in exchange, Rafael said, “I keep selling him fish.” According to the affidavit, Rafael also said that while he reported on his taxes that he made between $3 and $4 million in adjusted gross income, he in fact made about $21 million a year through his laundered fish sales. Rafael said in recorded conversations that “he [Michael] buys a lot of fish. You can become a laundromat. You’ll never find a better laundromat than this motherfucker.”
According to the affidavit, the undercover agents were posing as Russian mobsters looking to purchase Rafael’s fish business.
The affidavit indicates that on January 20, Perretti also met with the undercover operatives at a Manhattan restaurant, where he allegedly offered to launder money for the agents. Christina Sterling, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boston, said in an email that she could not comment on “any other possible indictments, as this is an ongoing investigation.”