Carlos Rafael, owner of Carlos Seafood, formally pleaded guilty to falsifying fish quotas, tax evasion and conspiracy on Thursday, 30 March, 2017, in U.S. District Court in Boston, Massachusetts, a report from South Coast Today confirmed.
During the hearing, the U.S. District attorney recommended that Rafael serve 46 months in prison for the crimes he has pleaded guilty to; a sentencing hearing has been tentatively scheduled for 27 June. William Kettlewell, Rafael’s attorney, has yet to comment on the case’s latest developments, but his office plans on releasing a statement soon, according to the newspaper report.
When asked why he wanted to plead guilty, Rafael replied, "To get this over with," according to South Coast Today.
Rafael was arrested in February 2016 based on allegations he was connected to a criminal fishing scheme involving the evasion of fishing quotas and the smuggling of profits to Portugal. Official charges levied against Rafael following his arrest included one count of conspiracy, 25 counts of falsifying records and one count of bulk cash smuggling. A new charge, tax evasion, was also added to the list in the weeks leading up to Rafael’s late-March plea – the Carlos Seafood owner failed to pay USD 108,929 (EUR 101,872) in taxes, according to the prosecution.
"Today I pled guilty to the charges facing me," Rafael said in a statement released by his lawyers, obtained by South Coast Today. "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."
"Mr. Rafael's scheme not only compromised delicate fish populations, but also profited on the backs of his hard-working crew," said acting U.S. Attorney William D. Weinreb said in a statement during the 30 March proceedings.
Weinreb continued: "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 could serve as long as 76 months in prison for his crimes, if residing Judge William G. Young at U.S. District Court decides to sidestep Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s recommendation of 46 months.
As part of a plea agreement reached between Rafael and the government, the U.S. Attorney was required to suggest less prison time, however, Judge Young made Rafael aware that assets, such as vessels, may need to be forfeited. Kettlewell noted on behalf of Rafael to the judge that the party reserves the right to “to challenge the proportionality of the assets" that could be forfeited. No further terms or details regarding the plea agreement were yet revealed.
Had Rafael been convicted of false labeling, 13 vessels and other fishing equipment and materials utilized in the crime would be subject to seizure, according to the indictment issued by the U.S. Attorney’s office.
"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," Rafael said in his statement. "I will do everything I can to make sure that the Port of New Bedford remains America's leading fishing port."
The proceeding’s only disagreement, according to the newspaper, came up in relation to the value of Rafael’s illegally-caught fish – both acting attorneys agreed to leave determination of how the fish will be valued (whether by "fair market value," "retail value" or otherwise) up to the judge.
"NOAA is committed to ensuring a level playing field for honest fishermen," said Samuel Rauch, acting assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, in a statement. "Those who cheat the American taxpayers and their fellow fishermen will be found out, investigated, and brought to justice."
Rafael is alleged to have lied about more than 782,000 pounds of fish, which he sold for upwards of USD 686,000 (EUR 641,556). Rafael sold a large volume of this fish to a wholesale business in New York in exchange for bags of cash, investigators claimed.
Bristol County Sheriff’s Deputy Antonio Freitas was also charged in association with Rafael’s scheme, specifically for allegedly smuggling and structuring the export of U.S. currency as a means to bring cash through restricted areas of Boston's Logan International Airport. Freitas' case is currently being tried in federal court separately.
More details about the progression of the Rafael case can be found here: