Sheriff’s captain accused of helping ‘Codfather’ smuggle cash

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

DARTMOUTH, Mass. (WPRI) — The case against New Bedford fishing tycoon Carlos Rafael, known as “The Codfather,” has snared a member of law enforcement.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said 45-year-old James Melo, a captain in the Bristol County Sheriff’s Office, was arrested Wednesday and charged with cash smuggling and conspiracy. He was released on $10,000 unsecured bond following his arraignment in federal court in Boston.

Prosecutors accuse Melo of helping Rafael smuggle profits from his illegal overfishing operations to Portugal. According to prosecutors, agents spotted Melo and Rafael arriving at Logan Airport in Boston on November 10, 2015 in a marked Bristol County Sheriff’s Office car. Both boarded a flight to Portugal, and prosecutors allege several acquaintances of both men also got on the plane. Prosecutors claim Melo handed out envelopes full of cash to each person in the group, which they then returned to either him or Rafael after landing in Portugal. Investigators said the group managed to smuggle $76,000 total on that one trip.

According to prosecutors, Rafael bragged about the cash smuggling to undercover agents posing as potential buyers of his business. Prosecutors claim Rafael also told the agents he knew several members of the sheriff’s office, including Melo, whom he referred to as “the captain at the prison.”

Rafael pleaded guilty in March to more than two dozen criminal charges. He is scheduled to be sentenced in late September.