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He bought his first boat in 1981, and then another and another, until he owned more than 40 vessels, many christened with Hellenic names—the The Codfather also ran afoul of the law.In the 1980s he was sentenced to six months in prison for tax evasion, and in 1994 he was indicted—and acquitted—for price-fixing.

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(More than a third of New Bedford’s residents have Portuguese ancestors; many can trace their heritage back to the days when Yankee whalers picked up crew members from the Azores during trans-Atlantic voyages.) Rafael rose to foreman at a seafood distribution facility and later founded his own company.

By 2015, though, Rafael was 63 years old, with assets worth tens of millions of dollars, and he was ready to cash out.

According to court documents, that January he let slip that he was selling his boats and dealership; five months later, three men appeared at his warehouse to negotiate.

It was an unsavory trio: two members of a Russian crime syndicate and their broker.

That was fine by Rafael, who swiftly divulged his business’ fraudulent underpinnings.

(Freitas now faces charges for his role in the operation.) As the Codfather described his fraud to his new acquaintances with glee, he seemed to catch occasional glimpses of his own carelessness. From Point Judith, Rhode Island, to Penobscot, Maine, Mullett’s affidavit received Zapruderlike scrutiny from industry observers.

How could the Codfather have master­minded such a massive, undetected scam under the waterfront’s collective nose?

Carlos Seafood, he said, was worth 5 million—more than eight times what he’d claimed to the IRS.

To prove it, Rafael reached under his desk and procured an envelope labeled “Cash.” Each year, he boasted, he sold thousands of pounds of under-the-table fish to a New York dealer named Michael, who gave Rafael a “bag of jingles”—cash—for the contraband.

“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.

He was born in the Azores, a chain of Portuguese islands scattered in the Atlantic.

Rafael, though, was exploiting a gaping loophole: Because he owned both boats and a dealership, he could instruct his captains to misreport their catch, and then he could falsify the dealer reports to corroborate the lie. Then again, he rationalized, the IRS wouldn’t be clever enough to use Russians as rats. (According to the affidavit, that was Michael Perretti, a Fulton Fish Market dealer once busted for peddling bass illegally taken from polluted waters­—though he hasn’t been charged for his connection to Rafael.) On February 26, 2016, federal agents arrested Rafael in a raid on his South Front Street warehouse, and in May he was indicted on 27 counts of fraud and other charges covering more than 800,000 pounds of fish.