Owner of seafood supplier arrested on federal fraud charges

Federal agents outside a New Bedford building owned by fishing magnate Carlos Rafael in 2016. (WPRI/Scott Del Sole)

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — The owner of a commercial seafood supplier and his bookkeeper were arrested Friday following an undercover sting by federal investigators.

Eyewitness News cameras captured IRS agents conducting a raid Friday morning at Carlos Seafood, Inc. on South Front Street in New Bedford.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, a criminal complaint alleges the owner, Carlos A. Rafael, has lied to federal authorities for years about the quantity and species of fish his boats caught in order to evade federal quotas. His bookkeeper, Debra Messier, is also named in the complaint.

WPRI/Scott Del Sole
WPRI/Scott Del Sole

Officials said the charges stemmed from an undercover investigation in which federal agents posed as organized crime figures interested in purchasing the business. During those meetings, Rafael allegedly laid out his process of running the business off the books by selling fish for cash and having his boat captains falsify forms.

The justice department said Rafael allegedly told the agents he earned $668,000 from a buyer in New York City over the past six months and smuggled some of the cash to Portugal through Logan International Airport.

According to the complaint, during one meeting, Rafael said to the agents:

“You could be the IRS in here…So I’m trusting you.

The only thing is, I open myself because both of you is Russians and I don’t think they would have two Russians [posing as agents]…that would be some bad luck!”

Carlos Seafood is one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the Northeast, according to the justice department.

Rafael, 64, and Messier, 60, both of Dartmouth, were charged with submitting falsified records to the federal government and conspiracy. They were scheduled to appear in U.S. District Court in Boston Friday afternoon.

The justice department said the fraud charge carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. The conspiracy charge carries up to five years in prison, three years supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.

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