Criminals don’t come more colorful than Carlos Rafael, once the most powerful fisherman in the nation’s most valuable seafood port. Rafael, who was the subject of a FERN story published earlier this year with Mother Jones, was known widely as the Codfather. He conquered the fishing industry in New Bedford, Mass., through a combination of guile and rule-bending; he famously described himself as a pirate, and told regulators it was their job to catch him. On Monday, the law finally caught up to the Codfather: A federal judge sentenced Rafael to 46 months in prison for masterminding one of the biggest fisheries frauds in American history.
The fake Russians met the Codfather on June 3, 2015, at an inconspicuous warehouse on South Front Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. The Codfather’s lair is a green and white building with a peaked roof, fishing gear strewn across a fenced-in backyard, and the words “Carlos Seafood” stamped above the door. The distant gray line of the Atlantic Ocean is visible behind a towering garbage heap. In the 19th century, New Bedford’s sons voyaged aboard triple-masted ships in pursuit of sperm whales; now they chase cod, haddock, and scallops. Every year, more than $350 million worth of seafood passes through this waterfront, a significant slice of which is controlled by the Codfather, the most powerful fisherman in America’s most valuable seafood port.
“The Codfather” is the local media’s nickname for Carlos Rafael, a stocky mogul with drooping jowls, a smooth pate, and a backstory co-scripted by Horatio Alger and Machiavelli.