Crime, Local News, News, SE Mass, Top Video

New Bedford man charged in series of 9 arsons

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — A New Bedford man is being held without bail on charges he set nine fires in the north end of the city in a three-month span.

Jose DeBrito, 30, of Sawyer Street, was arrested on arson charges earlier this month following fires on Myrtle and State Streets.

On Friday, police said an investigation by city detectives, fire officials, the District Attorney’s office and the state Fire Marshal’s office led to DeBrito being charged with setting an additional seven fires.

Investigators allege DeBrito set fires at the following locations:

  • July 28: 79 Adams St.
  • July 31: 475 Coggeshall St.
  • Aug. 2: 470-472 Sawyer St.
  • Aug. 8: 140 Hathaway St.
  • Aug. 8: 78 Penniman St.
  • Sept. 7: Purity Linens, 405 Myrtle St.
  • Sept. 30: 231 Myrtle St.
  • Oct. 11: 149 Myrtle St.
  • Oct. 12: 245 State St.

Police said DeBrito poured gasoline on the windows or doors of the buildings then set them on fire and, in many cases, remained in the area to watch the building burn.

“It started happening more and more, and that’s all we could talk about,” said Melissa Fisher, who lives in the Coggeshall St. building that was set on fire on July. “What if they came back, what if somebody ends up getting killed?”

Police said DeBrito was formerly employed by Purity Linens, and one home was the residence of his former girlfriend. The remaining locations appear to have been selected at random, police said, though they’re all in close proximity of his Sawyer Street home.

“I’m sure they’re comforted to know they can go to sleep tonight and don’t have to worry about somebody setting their door or their window afire,” said New Bedford Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro in an interview with Eyewitness News.

Cordeiro said DeBrito had been a person of interest in the previous fires for a while, but police finally got enough evidence to charge him with all nine of them on Friday.

“He had the same MO,” Cordeiro said. “It was either doors, or windows that he was setting on fire. So he had the same MO and then it was just about putting a lot pieces together, a lot of hard work from our investigators.”

After being deemed dangerous at a hearing on Oct. 19, DeBrito was ordered held at the Bristol County House of Correction. He’s scheduled to appear in court for a probable cause hearing on Nov. 19.

“I hope he gets to spend some time in jail and think about all the damage that he’s caused, and possibly families that he could’ve ruined,” Fisher said.

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Crime, Local News, News, SE Mass, Top Video

‘The Codfather’ pleads guilty to evading fishing quotas

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BOSTON (WPRI) — A once-powerful New Bedford fisherman has admitted to defrauding the federal government by lying about the species of fish he was catching and smuggling large amounts of cash overseas to avoid paying taxes.

Carlos Rafael, 65, pleaded guilty in federal court on Thursday to 28 criminal charges in connection to his fishing business, Carlos Seafood Inc. A judge scheduled his sentencing hearing for June 27.

Rafael, known as the “Codfather” in fishing circles, spent at least four years lying to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, about the types of fish he was catching. Rafael admitted Thursday he was telling NOAA that his fishing boats were catching Haddock, a less expensive fish with a high quota, when he was really catching more expensive, strictly-controlled fish like cod and sole, which have lower quotas.

The federal government requires fishermen to make reports to NOAA under penalty of perjury as a condition of their federal commercial fishing permits; the U.S. Attorney’s office said Rafael had 44 permits, making him the owner of one of the largest commercial fishing businesses in the country. NOAA strictly controls the amount of fish that can be caught in order to prevent overfishing and protect water ecosystems.

In 2013, Rafael was interviewed by Eyewitness News at a New Bedford fishing port about the quotas. He complained that they would harm his bottom line. Federal prosecutors say his fraudulent fishing practices were already going on at the time.

“We’re just about wiped out, with no fish to catch,” Rafael said in the interview.

Rafael also pleaded guilty to tax evasion, after he sold his misreported fish to a wholesaler in New York and failed to report the income, instead smuggling the cash to Portugal. In court, Asst. U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the wholesaler “literally delivered bags of cash to Mr. Rafael” in the amount of $668,000.

A Bristol County Sheriff’s Deputy, Antonio Freitas, is accused of helping Rafael smuggle the cash to Portugal. Federal court records say Freitas was also a task force officer assigned to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and was able to travel freely in Logan Airport without going through security. Prosecutors allege Freitas carried the cash to Portugal without declaring it, and deposited it into a bank account owned by Rafael.

Freitas is facing charges of bulk cash smuggling and structuring the export of monetary instruments.

In all, Rafael pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, 23 counts of false labeling and identification, two counts of falsification of federal records, one count of bulk cash smuggling and one count of tax evasion.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said Rafael misreported 782,812 pounds of fish in all between 2012 and 2016.

Samuel Rauch, Acting Assistant Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, said Thursday the playing field was now more level for honest fishermen. “Those who cheat the American taxpayers and their fellow fishermen will be found out, investigated, and brought to justice,” Rauch said.

Rafael’s attorney William Kettlewell declined to comment on the case outside of court. During the proceeding, he said Mr. Rafael would be disputing the total value of the fish he misreported during the sentencing phase.

Judge Bill Young said the highest sentence Rafael would receive based on sentencing guidelines is 78 months, or 6.5 years. The prosecution plans to request 3 years and 10 months as part of the plea agreement, but the sentence will ultimately be decided by the judge.

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Crime, Local News, News, SE Mass, Top Video

Armed suspect attempts to rob 4th graders walking to school

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — New Bedford police are searching for a teenage suspect accused of trying to rob two young boys while wielding a knife Wednesday morning.

Police told Eyewitness News the attempted robbery happened near the corner of Acushnet Avenue and South Street when two 4th graders were walking to Gomes Elementary, which is about a block away. The teenager who confronted them demanded money and potato chips, then tripped and pushed the boys when they refused. One of the boys suffered a “minor scratch” when his hand made contact with a knife in the suspect’s hand, according to police.

Police said an unidentified adult intervened in the skirmish and the boys ran away. The suspect did not get away with any of their possessions.

“I’m in shock to hear this,” said Jose Serpa, who lives across the street from Gomes and has a 3rd grader who attends the school. “Especially because we have a lot of kids that walk on their own to school.”

Serpa said he walks his son to and from school but was considering letting him walk alone next year.

‘”Now I have to worry about…will something happen?” Serpa said neighbors should be watching out for local children. “We need to be vigilant, especially people who are living here. So we have unity, we look after one another.”

Police said the suspect is described as a Hispanic teen, about 15 years old, with very short hair and a goatee, standing approximately 5-foot-8, and last seen wearing a brown hooded sweatshirt and jeans.

Anyone with information is asked to call the New Bedford Police Department at (508) 991-6350 or leave an anonymous tip by calling (508) 992-7463 or e-mail tip@newbedfordpd.com.

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Local News, Massachusetts, News, SE Mass, Top Video, Weather, Winter Weather

February Nor’easter: Blizzard conditions confirmed in New Bedford

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StormBeat: Blizzard-like conditions pummel Southern New England »

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI/AP) – New Bedford has announced that public schools will be closed again on Friday.

Gov. Charlie Baker urged people to stay off Massachusetts roads as the biggest snowstorm of the winter moves across the state throughout the day.

The National Weather Service confirmed that it’s officially a blizzard that hit New Bedford. Eyewitness News Meteorologist T.J. Del Santo said New Bedford was among several communities that had met blizzard criteria.

Feb. 9 Nor'easter collage
Photos: February Nor’easter

Eyewitness News Reporter Steph Machado reported that the wind was so strong at times, it practically knocked her over.

Massachusetts activated its emergency management bunker in Framingham to coordinate the response to the storm that’s expected to drop a foot or more of snow in some areas. The National Weather Service even issues a blizzard warning for coastal areas south of Boston.

The Republican said Thursday roads need to be clear so plows and sanders can do their work and emergency vehicles can make their way around.

Hundreds of departures from Logan Airport were canceled and airport officials were urging travelers to check with their airline. The state’s utilities were preparing for power outages and the state’s court system closed for the day.

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Business News, Economy, Local News, Money, News, SE Mass

New Bedford seafood plant will close, cutting 200 jobs

NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Seafood processing plant High Liner Foods said this week it will shut down most of its New Bedford operations, and about 200 workers will be laid off.

The layoffs will start April 29, and are expected to be finished by the end of September, according to a Feb. 17 letter sent from High Liner to the office of Mayor Jonathan Mitchell.

High Liner, based in Nova Scotia, uses its New Bedford plant to process breaded and battered fish cutlets, known as “value-added” seafood. The plant will shut down, while the company’s scallops division in New Bedford will remain open.

The company purchased the seafood plant from American Pride in 2013.

“We did not do the transaction thinking we would close the facility in three years,” President and CFO Peter Brown told Eyewitness News in a phone interview. “That was not part of the plan.”

Brown said the company determined it could streamline its production from four plants to three, leaving its facilities in Nova Scotia, Portsmouth, N.H. And Newport News, Va. open.

When asked why the New Bedford plant was selected for closure, Brown said the company considered the location of customers and suppliers.

“There was a very in-depth analysis done,” Brown said. The decision had nothing to do with the quality of employees at the New Bedford plant, he added.

Employees were notified Wednesday of the plant’s planned closure. Layoffs will begin April 29, and end when the plant closes in September. Employees will receive severance packages based on how long they worked with the company, Brown said.

In the letter to the mayor’s office, High Liner Executive Vice President Joanne Brown said the company is now working with the “Rapid Response Team” of the Massachusetts Division of Career Services to support employees who are losing their jobs.

Mayor Mitchell responded to the plant’s closure, releasing the following statement to Eyewitness News on Friday:

New Bedford has generally been the beneficiary of recent acquisitions and restructuring in the commercial fish processing industry, including expansions among local processors, so the High Liner decision clearly runs counter to the overall industry trend. That said, our first concern right now is to make sure we mitigate the impacts on the affected High Liner workers and their families. Connecting employees with education and job-training assistance can make a big difference, so the City has already begun working with the Career Center and the Workforce Investment Board to mobilize and coordinate these resources.”

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