Metro

Late for court, a controversial sheriff has to answer to a judge

Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson found himself in an unusual position Wednesday, facing a federal judge.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson found himself in an unusual position Wednesday, facing a federal judge.

Thomas Hodgson, the tough-talking, hardline sheriff from Bristol County, found himself in an unusual position Wednesday, facing a federal judge who wanted to know why he had been two hours late to testify in a criminal trial in July.

“I need an evidentiary explanation,” Judge William G. Young said at the outset of a hearing held to determine whether Hodgson should be cited with contempt or face other sanctions. “Are we going to hear evidence?”

But Hodgson, 63, who once charged inmates $5 daily rent to stay in his county jails, was not forced to wear shackles himself after Young determined the sheriff was not at fault for the tardiness.

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Hodgson had received a subpoena to appear at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in South Boston at 9 a.m. on July 19 for the federal trial of Antonio Freitas, a former Bristol County sheriff’s deputy accused of smuggling profits of an overfishing scheme to Portugal.

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Freitas’s lawyer, Daniel Cronin, told Young he had told Hodgson, a defense witness, that he did not have to be at the courthouse until 10 that morning.

Hodgson had planned to leave his office in Dartmouth with enough time to reach the courthouse by 10, but then had to wait for his special sheriff, Bruce Assad, who also has a private practice as an attorney and was late after an appointment with a client. Assad met Hodgson in Dartmouth, some 60 miles south of Boston, at 9:15 a.m.

“There was no doubt in my mind or the sheriff’s mind that we were going to be here at 10 o’clock,” Assad told Young.

“Do you normally think that you can make it from Bristol County to any appointment in Boston in 45 minutes?” Young asked.

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Yes, Assad said, if rush hour traffic is over, which it usually is by 9 a.m.

But that morning, traffic was terrible because of an accident on the Southeast Expressway, Assad said.

Young chastised Assad for not giving himself more time but said it was clear Hodgson had not wilfully disobeyed the subpoena.

“It is the court’s ruling that here there is no occasion for civil contempt,” Young said.

Hodgson was relieved Young did not impose the toughest penalty — jail.

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“I never even wanted to think about that,” he said after the hearing. “I’ve never been late for court in my life. We’re sorry the judge and the jury had to wait.”

Freitas, 47, of Taunton, was convicted in July of one count of bulk cash smuggling and one count of structuring the export of US currency for his role in an elaborate scheme by New Bedford fishing magnate Carlos Rafael to evade federal fishing regulations and increase profits.

Rafael, known to locals as “the Codfather,” pleaded guilty in March to mislabeling hundreds of thousands of pounds of fish.

Freitas smuggled thousands of dollars to a Portuguese bank account belonging to Rafael. Freitas is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 12.

Hodgson said he was asked during the trial whether Rafael had any influence on Freitas receiving a promotion at the sheriff’s department. He told jurors no.

Maria Cramer can be reached at mcramer@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @globemcramer.