Grijalva: Trump Administration Has Just Days to Ensure Justice for New England Fishermen in Historic Illegal Fishing Case

Washington, D.C. – Just ahead of a closely watched sentencing hearing for Carlos Rafael, the leader of a notorious illegal fishing operation that has badly damaged the New England fishing economy, Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) sent two letters today – one to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and the other to Department of Commerce Inspector General Peggy Gustafson – urging renewed attention to his case and an investigation of whether federal conflicts of interest allowed his scheme to continue after his wrongdoing first came to light.

The letter to Sessions and Ross is available at http://bit.ly/2wJWCOl. The letter to Gustafson is available at http://bit.ly/2wKffBA.

Rafael, who led an illegal fishing operation that stole and mislabeled millions of dollars’ worth of seafood from the New England fishery, is scheduled to be sentenced early next week. He is currently challenging the federal seizure of his fishing boats and is not likely to spend more than four years in prison, even though federal guidelines allow for a longer sentence.

In today’s letters, Grijalva raises the prospect that Rafael may be able to continue to profit, even in prison, if his operations continue or if he sells his valuable fishing and scallop permits worth millions of dollars.

Grijalva’s letter to Sessions and Ross highlights Rafael’s damage to the regional economy and to fishing populations, and urges intensified penalties that will deter future similar crimes. His letter to Gustafson requests a comprehensive investigation of how Rafael was able to get away with his scheme for so long and a review of why his boats continued operation after his wrongdoing had been established.

The letter to Gustafson points out Rafael’s potential conflicts of interest with the fishery sector’s leadership. Grijalva notes that the lack of oversight of Rafael’s illegal activities by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the New England Fishery Management Council has severely impacted the larger New England fishing community.

Rafael was arrested last year after an undercover investigation found that he had continuously violated fishery regulations, evaded taxes by smuggling his profits out of the country, and conspired to commit multiple crimes. He pled guilty in March of this year.

“This happened in our own back yard and hurt countless hard-working, honest fishermen, and there’s been almost no response from those who manage our nation’s fisheries,” Grijalva said today. “Mr. Rafael is a criminal with no respect for the law. He deserves penalties fitting his years-long destruction of the economy, the environment and the public trust, not a slap on the wrist.”

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