Christine Haughney covers corruption and criminal behavior as part of the Zero Point Zero Production series Food Crimes.
Carlos “the Codfather” Rafael is not letting his upcoming federal trial for mislabeling seafood slow down his massive commercial-fishing business.
While fishermen across New England marvel at how Rafael is allowed to continue working while facing a 27-count indictment, public records suggest that the indicted seafood mogul might even be expanding his fleet of more than 40 vessels.
Documents filed with the Massachusetts secretary of state’s office show that on May 16, Rafael’s wife, Conceicao, created a company called Nemesis LLC with the mission “to engage in fishing and shellfishing of every nature and description.” Then, on June 24, two days after Rafael’s lawyer appeared in court to schedule his January 2017 trial date, Nemesis bought a fishing vessel previously called the Jamie & Ashley.
Ever since his February arrest, Rafael’s case has captivated the East Coast fishing industry because of the number of people involved, including his bookkeeper and a local deputy sheriff who allegedly helped smuggle cash through Logan Airport. The descriptive court papers indicate that Rafael’s collaborators also implicated a colleague named Michael at New York City’s Fulton Fish Market who “sent me a bag of jingles” in exchange for mislabeled fish.
Rafael was formally indicted on May 9 in connection with an alleged scheme to sell illegally caught fish and conceal the proceeds. The charges include submitting false reports to the government, providing fake records and smuggling bulk cash. The scope of the plot is significant: Prosecutors say Rafael misreported 815,812 pounds of fish to government officials, oftentimes switching the species name in order to circumvent federal overfishing rules. Two of the counts each carry federal prison sentences of up to 20 years. The indictment also accuses a sheriff’s deputy of helping Rafael with smuggling cash.
At a court appearance in early March, U.S. prosecutor Andrew E. Lelling argued that Rafael should be considered a flight risk, noting that the businessman has valid fishing permits worth more than $10 million and holds bank accounts in Norway and Portugal, according to local New England newspaper South Coast Today. Nonetheless, Rafael was released on a $2 million bond. In June, magistrate judge David H. Hennessey ruled that Rafael could work even later during the summertime and extended his curfew until 8:30 p.m.
“Rafael can continue to work while under indictment as he was released on conditions following his arraignment in federal court,” says Elizabeth McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s office. McCarthy notes that her office is aware that Rafael recently added his wife’s name to his business but adds that the recent boat purchase doesn’t break any court-imposed rules related to the case. “The indictment seeks forfeiture of boats and permits involved in the conspiracy we charged, and we have obtained a civil restraining order preventing him from liquidating those assets,” she says. In other words, the government can’t stop Rafael from buying boats. He just can’t sell them.
“I was punished much more severely in a civil matter and with lasting consequences.” —James Spalt, who was banned from fishing for 16 years for allegedly violating fishing rules in 1997
It would perhaps make more sense that Rafael would be allowed to work if he were a first-time offender. But he has a long history of trouble with the law. In the 1980s, he served time in federal prison for tax evasion. He was indicted in 1994 in a price-fixing case but was not found guilty. In 2000, he pleaded guilty in federal court to charges related to making false statements and was sentenced to two years of probation.
Over the past two decades, Rafael has also run afoul of several regulatory agencies. His violations include a $52,000 fine from the Environmental Protection Agency for leaving an abandoned boat in New Bedford Harbor in 2003 and a $46,000 fine from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration after an employee died in November 2006 from excessive carbon monoxide fumes on one of Rafael’s boats.
But allowing accused criminals to carry on with their usual affairs is rare. In an unrelated case, Mark Crumpacker, chief marketing and development officer for beleaguered fast-food chain Chipotle, faces misdemeanor charges for buying cocaine seven different times earlier this year. Even though he has been instrumental in working on the company’s recovery plan, a Chipotle spokesman confirms that Crumpacker was placed on a leave of absence following his arrest.
And in the fishing industry, other veterans who have violated fishing regulations have suffered much worse fates. James Spalt, another New England fish business owner, says he was prevented from working in the industry for 16 years after facing civil charges for violating fishing rules in 1997. During that time, Spalt says he was not allowed to buy boats. “I was punished much more severely in a civil matter and with lasting consequences,” Spalt writes in an email.
The boat that Rafael recently purchased had been owned by a Portland, Maine–based fishing company called Jordan Marine Inc. According to the website EatLocalFish.com, David Jordan, a second-generation lobsterman, launched the Jamie & Ashley “on a very cold day in January 1989.” In the years following Jordan’s death in 1999, his daughter Allyson stepped in and ran the family’s fishing business under the name Eat Local Fish. Jordan did not return a call or email for comment about the sale.
Contacted on his cell phone on Monday morning, Rafael declined to comment about the case or the recent boat purchase. His trial is scheduled for January 9, 2017.