A New Bedford fisherman pleaded guilty to evading more than $431,000 in federal income taxes over the course of seven years.

Victor M. Cruz, 43, pleaded guilty to three counts of tax evasion in federal court in Boston on Tuesday. A warrant was put out for his arrest in August of 2021, and in July of last year he was arrested in Brownsville, Texas — a shrimp fishing port on the southernmost tip of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Court records show how Cruz failed to report his wages over seven years working for “various commercial fishing vessels” on the Port of New Bedford. The companies were not named.

He maintained a “primarily cash lifestyle,” according to court records, buying a car, paying rent and making other large purchases, “thereby seeking to avoid a paper trail of most of his income and expenditures.” He routinely cashed his checks at Bank of America and Rockland Trust Bank, rather than depositing his paychecks, records show.

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The original indictment, from August of 2021, lists Dartmouth state Rep. Chris Markey as the attorney representing Cruz. Later court records show Cruz was represented by a court-appointed lawyer. Markey declined to comment.

The form of tax evasion is somewhat common on the New Bedford waterfront, according to fishermen. It’s “a roll of the dice,” said one fisherman, who asked not to be identified.

In 2021, Billie Schofield, then owner of Northern Pelagic (Norpel), a seafood processing business located on Fish Island, was sentenced to three years in prison for tax evasion that amounted to more than $350,000.

In addition to fraud related to mislabeling about 800,000 pounds of fish, it was also one count of tax evasion that earned Carlos Rafael his almost four-year sentence and forced him to sell off his fishing empire.

Cruz, represented by a public defender, is a far cry from the New Bedford fish moguls that have done time for cooking their books. But the debt the fisherman built up over seven years of avoiding the Internal Revenue Service is substantial.

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From 2015 through 2017, Cruz earned between $183,000 and $212,000 in annual wages. Despite receiving at least two notices from the Internal Revenue Service, authorities say he failed to file any federal tax returns and “took other measures to prevent authorities from tracing his income.” 

The total of $431,000 in federal taxes he evaded over seven years does not include delinquency penalties or interest, according to a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston. 

The charges of tax evasion could each lead to a sentence of up to five years in prison and a fine of $250,000. 

Cruz is scheduled for sentencing May 9.

Email Will Sennott at wsennott@newbedfordlight.org.

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