Undercover Operation Nets Owner and Bookkeeper of Major Commercial Fishing Business for Violating Regulations
BOSTON – The owner of one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the northeastern United States and his bookkeeper were arrested today on charges of conspiracy and submitting falsified records to the federal government to evade federal fishing quotas. The charges arose out of an undercover investigation in which federal agents posed as organized crime figures interested in buying the fishing business.
Carlos A. Rafael, 64, and Debra Messier, 60, both of Dartmouth, were charged in a criminal complaint with submitting falsified records to the federal government and conspiracy. They are scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Boston at 3:30 p.m. today.
According to court documents, Rafael owns Carlos Seafood, Inc., in New Bedford, which is one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the northeastern United States. The complaint alleges that for years, Rafael, with help from his bookkeeper, Messier, lied to federal authorities about the quantity and species of fish his boats caught, in order to evade federal quotas designed to guarantee the sustainability of certain fish species. After submitting false records to federal regulators to conceal the violation of quotas, Rafael sold the fish to a business in New York City in exchange for bags of cash.
According to court documents, beginning in June 2015, two undercover federal agents posing as organized crime figures had several meetings with Rafael to negotiate the purchase of his business. During those meetings, Rafael allegedly told the agents how he operated his business off-the-books by selling fish for cash. This culminated in a meeting at Rafael’s office in New Bedford in January 2016, during which Rafael and Messier allegedly explained, step by step, what they called “the dance”: the process by which Rafael and others coordinated with Rafael’s boat captains to falsify federal forms intended to track what was caught as well as forms designed to monitor the fish species purchased by Carlos Seafood. Rafael also allegedly told the undercover agents that, in his most recent dealings with the New York City buyer, he earned $668,000 in less than six months. Rafael allegedly smuggled some of the cash through Logan International Airport to Portugal.
The charge of submitting falsified records to the federal government provides for a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000 fine. The charge of conspiracy provides for a sentence of no greater than five years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Manny J. Muriel, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations in Boston; Rear Admiral Linda L. Fagan, Commander of the First Coast Guard District; Timothy Donovan, Acting Assistant Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Office of Law Enforcement; Gregory K. Null, Special Agent in Charge of the Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, Philadelphia Field Office; and Harold H. Shaw, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Andrew E. Lelling, of Ortiz’s Economic Crimes Unit, and David G. Tobin, of Ortiz’s Major Crimes Unit.
The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.
To confidentially report illegal fisihing activity, contact the U.S. Coast Guard at 1 (844) 847-2431.