A legal dispute over the sale of fishing boats once owned by a disgraced former fishing magnate nicknamed “The Codfather” is headed to state court in Massachusetts this month.
It’s the latest development in a waterfront saga that has dragged on for years in one of busiest fishing ports in the country. Carlos Rafael, whose fishing operations were based out of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was once the owner of one of the largest commercial fishing operations in the U.S.
Rafael was sentenced to nearly four years in prison in 2017 for dodging quotas and smuggling profits overseas. The result of the government's case against Rafael included forced divestiture of his assets and a permanent ban from commercial fishing.
Rafael complied, but a New Bedford fish auction house sued him with a complaint that he didn't honor a right of first refusal agreement to buy boats. The auction house, BASE Inc., filed suit in September 2019, claiming it suffered millions of dollars in damages because it wasn't able to buy the boats.
But Rafael, who is on home confinement near the end of his sentence, maintains he did nothing wrong. His lawyer, John Markey of New Bedford, said he is fighting the suit in court.
The case was slated for a pretrial hearing Monday that was postponed by snow, and it is awaiting a new date this month, Markey said.
“The Rafaels needed to defend themselves because they were being sued,” Markey said. “When you engage in litigation, all the facts are going to come out."
Rafael was once one of the most successful fish magnates in New England, but investigators said his vessels engaged in fish fraud.
The boats claimed to catch fish such as haddock or pollock when they had actually brought ashore species that are subject to stricter quotas. Rafael then smuggled proceeds from sales to Portugal.
BASE Inc., the auction house, handled fish that came through Rafael's vessels. A lawyer for the auction house, David Smith of Salem, said the auction “has acted appropriate at all times and is confident it will prevail.”