BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) — Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia is seeking to delay his trial on fraud and extortion charges until next spring because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his attorney said Tuesday.
The federal trial of Correia and his former Chief of Staff Genoveva Andrade has been twice delayed due to the pandemic, and is currently set for Jan. 13.
At a pre-trial hearing conducted over Zoom, Judge Douglas Woodlock was not inclined to postpone the trial again just yet, saying pandemic-related protocols were being put in place for the January trial. He said those include limiting the courtroom to 26 people total and requiring any witnesses who are coming from out of state to quarantine or get tested. (He requested witness lists be submitted later this month.)
The 26-person limit will likely exclude members of the public or press from attending the trial in person, Woodlock said.
Kevin Reddington, Correia’s attorney, objected to the date because of safety concerns.
“To imagine trying this case under these circumstances … even if we were to wait until April or May things might clear up a little bit,” Reddington said.
Andrade’s attorney Charles Rankin also objected to the date, saying he did not want to be a “guinea pig” for trials in the pandemic.
“I’ve spent seven months now isolated,” Rankin said. “It’s not safe. … I see no reason to press forward.”
“You’re not saying that jurors have to have a COVID tests or any participants have to have a COVID test,” Rankin added.
Woodlock said he anticipates more trials to take place before January, which will give the court experience running them in the pandemic.
He also said the attorneys’ concerns will be taken into consideration over the next three months, but he did not change the date. The trial had already been moved from this past spring to September, and then again from September to January, as the federal court worked on COVID-19 protocols.
Woodlock also denied a request from Andrade to be tried separately from Correia.
Correia is accused of extorting prospective marijuana vendors for hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes in order to get a “letter of non-opposition” from the mayor, something that was required under Massachusetts law to open a pot shop in the city.
The alleged scheme happened while Correia was already under indictment for allegedly defrauding investors in his now-defunct app SnoOwl. The indictments were combined into one trial that includes two dozen counts including extortion, bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy and filing false tax returns.
Andrade is accused of conspiring with Correia in the marijuana vendor extortion, but is not accused in the SnoOwl scheme. She has pleaded not guilty to charges of aiding and abetting extortion, conspiracy, bribery and making false statements.
Correia refused to step down from office despite the federal indictments, and was even recalled from office by nearly two-thirds of voters but immediately re-elected by a plurality in a five-way race to replace him. He has repeatedly declared his innocence.
Voters later elected Mayor Paul Coogan in 2019 with 80% of the vote over Correia, who suspended his campaign shortly before the election though his name still appeared on the ballot.