From surf to turf: ‘Codfather’ nets real estate deals

Dec 1, 2020

Seafood magnate Carlos Rafael — known to many as ‘the Codfather’ — has traded cod for sod as he works on acquiring multiple parcels of land around Dartmouth, including a defunct golf club and a lot for a proposed senior housing project.

Rafael used to own one of the largest commercial fishing operations in the US before he was taken down in 2016 by federal agents disguised as Russian mobsters.

The former fishing kingpin was arrested for tax evasion, cash smuggling, and mislabeling fish to dodge quotas, and served more than 30 months of a nearly four-year sentence before his release from prison earlier this year. 

He sold the last of his fishing fleet in February as part of a settlement with the federal government keeping him out of the industry for good.

Now the Dartmouth resident says he is planning to restore the Hawthorne Country Club on Tucker Road to its former glory as a function hall, and has already set plans in motion for a new 149-unit apartment complex for residents over 55 on Hathaway Road.

“Actually, the government did me a favor by putting me out,” Rafael said. “I ended up with a bucketload of money out of the deal, and instead of having the money in the bank, I’m investing it.”

Rafael and his son-in-law Jeff Hathaway — who owns Hathaway Construction — said they are in negotiations to acquire the derelict golf club property, which the Azorean native has had his eye on for years.

In 2011, New Bedford restaurateur Kevin Santos shelled out $2.5 million to outbid Rafael for the country club at auctionBut the club closed its doors in December 2015 and has been sitting idle ever since.

Rafael now owns the mortgage and is currently negotiating with Santos to take ownership of the property itself. 

He has already hired crews to mow the overgrown lawns and cut back brush at the site — activity that has drawn the notice of the town’s Conservation Commission, which on Nov. 17 issued an enforcement order to stop the work near a stream to the north.

“The enforcement order clearly stated, ‘Cease and desist all activity,’ but obviously Carlos did not adhere to that,” said Environmental Affairs Coordinator Marc Garrett at a Conservation Commission meeting on Dec. 1. 

Garrett noted that Hathaway “has been very very cooperative,” and that fencing was being installed as per the commission’s order. “I’ll be back to see how they progress,” he said. 

But Rafael and Hathaway said that the neighbors and community members are happy to see the area cleaned up after years of neglect and vandalism. 

“We’ve already had several neighbors come over and say ‘Wow, the place looks great,’” Hathaway noted. “We’ve received an outpouring of support.”

He added that there are currently no plans to develop the property into housing. 

“We know a lot of people are worried about the possibility of housing or 40B, and that’s not what we want to do,” said Hathaway. “We want to truly be a place where people have enjoyed it for 50 years, let’s continue that tradition.”

“But it could go the other way,” added Rafael, who noted that he wouldn’t need the town’s approval to build affordable housing. “If they really fight me head on, then it would be a terrible mistake.”

Although the family’s function hall hopes depend on whether the Covid situation improves, they are already getting started on architectural drawings for a complete remodel of the structure, Hathaway said. 

“[We want] something bigger and better, more functional for weddings and proms, all that good stuff,” he said. “We’re not going to let Covid slow us down!”

Other ideas for the property include adding a seafood restaurant, or even leasing out the golf course — something Hathaway said the family would not consider doing on their own. 

“We’re not golf people,” he said simply. Rafael was still more direct. “I ain’t getting into golf,” he said. “I hate the game.”

Although the real estate projects are an investment for the future, Hathaway noted that the town will also benefit.

“I think everything we’re doing so far is great for the community,” he said. “I think bringing back [the country club] is a major plus. And a 55 and over is always needed — it’s not a burden to the infrastructure, it’s not a burden to the school system.”

But Rafael said his main goal is to leave a lasting legacy for his family. 

“I hope I live a few more years, but it’s gonna be for all of them,” he said. “For me, I don’t need it...I don’t need anything. I could be traveling the world and just going to Monaco and places like that, and do nothing. But that’s not my nature.”