Judge orders partial seizure of Carlos Rafael’s fleet and permits

In a ruling on Wednesday, 11 October, a federal judge approved the seizure of four of fishing magnate Carlos Rafael’s vessels and their associated permits as punishment for his role in orchestrating a quota and tax evasion scheme out of his New Bedford, Massachusetts-based business, Carlos Seafood.

Rafael was sentenced to a 46-month prison sentence and three years of supervised release, as well as a USD 200,000 (EUR 169,000) fine, in September. However, Rafael won a partial victory on Wednesday, as prosecutors’ efforts to seize his entire fleet were denied by U.S. District Court Judge William Young.

Young ruled that any seizure of Rafael’s property had to be “constitutionally proportional” and using previous cases as a guideline, determined that amount to be around 10 times the fine levied against Rafael.

“This is not an arbitrary choice,” Young wrote in his ruling. “It accommodates – as far as this court reasonably can – the unequivocal congressional mandate that forfeiture for Lacey Act and bulk cash smuggling offenses ought to be complete.”

With Rafael owing the maximum fine allowed under law, Young ordered the seizure of four of his fishing boats – and their 34 accompanying fishing permits – with a total appraised value for Rafael’s interest of USD 2,258,850 (EUR 1,909,155). Specifically, the forfeited vessels are:

  • Bull Dog, valued at USD 661,350 (EUR 558,650), and holding eight permits, 
  • Olivia & Rafaela, valued at USD 458,550 (EUR 387,350), and holding 11 permits
  • Lady Patricia, valued at USD 338,800 (EUR 286,190), and holding four permits
  • Southern Crusader II, valued at 800,150 (EUR 676,000), and holding 11 permits

By refusing to allow the seizure of all of Rafael’s 13 fleet and scores of permits, valued at around USD 27 million to 30 million (EUR 22.8 million to 25.4 million), Young agreed with Rafael’s argument that such a forfeiture would be unconstitutional.

Despite maintaining control of some of his assets, Rafael can never again work in the fishing industry, according to the agreement reached as part of his guilty plea. It is unclear whether Rafael’s wife, Conceicao Rafael, who owns 50 percent of eight fishing vessels in the Carlos Seafood fleet – including some of the vessels ordered to be seized – will continue to run the business.

One potential buyer of Rafael’s fleet and permits has not yet publicly reacted to the ruling.

Richard Canastra, who along with his brother owns the Buyers and Sellers Exchange (BASE), a New Bedford-based seafood auction firm, told radio station WBSM last week he entered into a memorandum of agreement with Rafael to buy his fishing fleet and permits for USD 93 million (EUR 79.5 million). 

In the interview, Canastra did not specify how the deal might proceed in the case of a partial seizure of Rafael’s assets, as ordered by Young on Wednesday.


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