This week, as the Carlos Rafael saga unfolded in New Bedford and in federal court in Worcester, the U.S. Coast Guard issued a release asking anyone with information on illegal fishing activity to report it to a confidential hotline.

Coincidence? Hardly.

A Coast Guard spokeswoman said the hotline has been used in the past, but the Coast Guard is publicizing it more extensively now and one of the reasons is the Rafael case. The New Bedford fishing mogul is facing federal charges of conducting illegal fishing operations, conspiracy and falsifying fish-reporting documents.

"Is it partly because of the case? Definitely," Lt. Karen Kutkiewicz said Friday.

Kutkiewicz said the hotline, which is manned by Coast Guard personnel, already has received numerous tips on illegal fishing from callers in the New Bedford area and Boston. She did not specify if any related directly to the Rafael case.

She also said the hotline will continue operating as long as tips keep coming in.

"We really want to make sure that the guys that are out there fishing legitimately have the best shot," she said. "We want the playing field to be level."

She urged anyone with information on illegal fishing activities to call the line at 1-844-847-2431.

Rafael complaint

Rafael, the 63-year-old owner of one of the largest fishing fleets on the East Coast, was arrested Feb. 26 along with company bookkeeper Debra Messier after federal agents from the Internal Revenue Service and NOAA Fisheries Law Enforcement raided his New Bedford waterfront business, Carlos Seafood Inc.

The U.S. Attorney's office alleges Rafael, who owns more than 40 fishing vessels, has employed a 30-year strategy of circumventing established fishing laws and practices by lying about the amount and species of the fish he landed in New Bedford.

The complaint also alleges that Rafael sold the illicit fish to a seafood buyer in New York City, who paid for it by dropping off bags of cash in Connecticut for Rafael to retrieve.

That seafood buyer was alternately referred to as "Michael" and "Perretti" in a federal affidavit in support of the criminal complaint. That affidavit included a reference to a Gloucester connection in the scam.

The reference came during a Jan. 20 meeting in a New York City restaurant between the New York seafood buyer and undercover federal agents posing as Russians interested in buying Rafael’s fishing business.

According to the affidavit, the seafood buyer assured the undercover agents he could launder money for them, but was uncertain how much he could move: "I haven’t reached out to anybody. Like I said, I’m only using him (Rafael) and the other guy in Gloucester,” the affidavit quotes the buyer as saying.

Rafael out on bond

Federal prosecutors have not commented specifically on that connection beyond the one reference in the affidavit from IRS Special Agent Ronald Mullett.

Rafael, often referred to as "The Codfather" because of the extent of his fishing holdings and the scope of his influence along the New Bedford waterfront, has not been indicted on the charges. Federal prosecutors have 30 days from the date of his arrest to decide whether to file an indictment.

While Messier was released the day of the arrests on a $10,000 bond, Rafael was held without bail until Wednesday, when a federal judge in Worcester released him on a $1 million bond, with conditions that include the wearing of a monitoring device and severe travel restrictions.

Contact Sean Horgan at 978-675-2714, or shorgan@gloucestertimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT