BOSTON (CN) — The conviction of a former sheriff’s department captain for his role in the overseas money laundering of a notorious New England fishing magnate known as “the Codfather” was upheld by the First Circuit late Friday.
Jamie Melo was accused of distributing envelopes containing large amounts of cash to associates in the men’s room of Boston’s Logan Airport before the group went through security.
The group, including the Codfather, was traveling to Portugal for a charitable fundraiser called “Thanksgiving in the Azores” that was sponsored by the Bristol County Sheriff’s Department. Once in the Azores, the Codfather, real name Carlos Rafael, allegedly received the envelopes back and then deposited $76,000 in cash in a bank account.
Melo claimed that he had no idea what was in the envelopes. At his trial, the court told the jury that even if that were technically true, Melo could still be convicted if he was “willfully blind” to facts he should have been aware of and deliberately avoided discovering something that should have been obvious.
The First Circuit said this was correct.
“Being asked to carry envelopes for another person at the airport, and then being told to pick up the envelopes in a bathroom to avoid detection, reasonably qualify as ‘red flags,’” U.S. Circuit Judge David Barron wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.
“If Melo did not know what was in the envelopes, he took pains not to apprise himself of the envelopes’ contents,” Barron said.
The Codfather is a high school dropout who became the most powerful figure in America’s most valuable seafood port – New Bedford, Massachusetts – which handles some $350 million worth of fish each year.
According to Vice magazine, Rafael decorated his office with pictures of gangsters from the movie “Scarface” and referred to his competitors as “mosquitoes on the balls of an elephant.” He also called them “maggots” and referred to fishing regulators as “the Gestapo.” He bragged of having once told a federal prosecutor, “Read my lips: Fuck you.”
In 2017, Rafael was sentenced to 46 months in prison as the result of a sting operation in which IRS agents posed as Russian mobsters interested in buying his operation. He was charged with 27 counts of fraud and other charges involving more than 800,000 pounds of mislabeled fish.
Federal regulations require fishermen to report the species and weight of their catch and also require dealers who buy the catch to do the same as a form of corroboration. Rafael avoided this problem, however, by owning both fishing boats and a dealership, so he could get away with falsifying both types of reports.
Rafael smuggled some of his profits out of the country with the help of a sheriff’s deputy named Antonio Freitas, who was sentenced to a year in prison in 2017. Melo was charged with participating in a similar operation and was given eight months of home confinement.
Melo complained that he wasn’t given Miranda warnings when he was interrogated by two officers at his home, as he should have been if he was in custody. But Barron, an Obama appointee, said Melo wasn’t in custody because he was free to leave.
“Although a suspect’s dwelling may at times comprise a custodial interrogation, such a location generally presents a less intimidating atmosphere than, say, a police station,” Barron said.
And while the officers told Melo he was a target of their investigation, they were “cordial and professional” and did not brandish their weapons, Barron noted.
Melo also claimed that the trial judge should not have allowed in evidence that Melo had close to 200 phone calls with Rafael and Freitas in the months preceding the Azores trip.
The evidence proved nothing and was intended simply to “make him look like he’s in league with two nefarious characters,” Melo’s lawyer told the First Circuit at oral argument, saying the government was trying to make Melo look guilty by association.
But Barron said there was a good reason to permit the evidence.
“After all, the fact that there were contacts between the phones of Melo, Rafael, and Freitas shows that these men were familiar with one another and communicated semi-regularly,” Barron wrote.
He added, “Moreover … the average number of contacts per month between Melo’s phone and those of his alleged co-conspirators greatly increased after the commencement of the alleged conspiracy in October of 2015, a fact that would only be apparent to the jury if it had before it phone records that covered a period of time that predated the alleged conspiracy.”
The panel also included U.S. Circuit Chief Judge Jeffrey Howard, a George W. Bush appointee and U.S. Circuit Judge O. Rogeriee Thompson, an Obama appointee.