BOSTON — In front of about 40 family members, friends and employees, Carlos Rafael received a 46-month prison term from Judge William Young on Monday.
The only hesitance Young displayed in handing down the sentence in Courtroom 18 of U.S. District Court regarded the forfeiture of 13 groundfish vessels and permits. Young had the “gravest concerns” of the unconstitutionality of seizing all 13 permits. He planned to make his decision as soon as possible.
Rafael, 65, of North Dartmouth, Massachusetts, pleaded guilty in March to 28 offenses, including conspiracy, false labeling of fish, bulk cash smuggling, tax evasion and falsifying federal records.
Rafael is scheduled to report to prison Nov. 6. His attorney, William Kettlewell, requested the sentence be served at Fort Devens.
Young also ordered three years supervised release and a $200,000 fine. During Rafael’s time in prison and supervised release, Young barred him from having anything to do with commercial fishing.
“This was not stupid. This was corrupt. This was a corrupt course of action from start to finish,” Young said to Rafael. “[It was] designed to benefit you. To line your pockets. That’s what it was, and that’s why the court has sentenced you as it has.”
The groundfish permits and vessels are valued between $27 million to $30 million, according to appraisals by the government and defense. The value forced Young to proceed without a conclusion on forfeiture. Young said he rules under the Constitution, which higher courts have decided, states excessive penalties is four times the guideline’s maximum.
“I have grave doubts given the value of the vessels and permits,” Young said.
Young then debated the merits of ordering a partial forfeiture.
“Suppose I give you three,” he asked the prosecution. “Suppose I give you 10?”
Whatever Young decides, he stated in court that he had no authority to decide the final fate of the permits.
“That’s an executive agency function,” Young said.
John Bullard, NOAA Northeast regional manager and former New Bedford mayor, was in attendance and may be handed that responsibility. He declined to comment Monday.
Minutes before sentencing, Rafael stood and asked his lawyer to read a statement that he wrote.
The 65-year-old who gained the nickname the “Codfather” masked his face with his hand as Kettlewell read the letter. The statement described his acts as the “stupidest thing I ever did.”
His letter backed the image that Kettlewell tried to paint as he referred to his client as a “good person.” Rafael claimed he committed the offenses to help support the employees of his business, who have mortgages, car payments and student loans.
“I just hope whatever I get doesn’t hurt the people on the waterfront,” Rafael wrote. “They don’t deserve that.”
The best scenario for New Bedford, as recommended by Mayor Jon Mitchell, would be a deal where Rafael sold his entire fleet to a buyer. The defense revealed Richard and Ray Canastra as the buyers who entered a Memorandum of Agreement with Rafael last week. They declined to comment after the sentencing Monday.
Court documents hinted at such a deal as far back as July, when Rafael’s attorneys requested more time to iron out the negotiation.
“I’m rather surprised it’s taken so long to bring Mr. Rafael before the court,” Young said.
Young described the number of suggestions of what to do with the permits as “voluminous.”
Those in Maine, including the congressional delegation, and on the Cape have argued for entire redistribution throughout the Northeast. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker suggested the permits remain in the Commonwealth.
Rafael’s businesses will still have the ability to profit from scalloping without a global deal.
The government only had the ability for seize the 13 permits and vessels associated with Rafael’s crime — and even those are in doubt.
In terms of prison time, Young sided with the prosecution, which recommended 51 months in its sentencing memorandum. The defense sought 24 months probation.
In the end, Young agreed with the prosecution that retail value should be used to value the under-reported fish. He also said that the study by Brian Rothschild submitted by the defense “didn’t resonate” with him.
Rothschild’s study claimed the effects the under-reported catch had on the fishery were minimal. Young didn’t refute it but questioned the relevance.
“It’s like we’re counting apples and oranges,” Young said.
The hearing continues at 2 p.m. Tuesday.
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