BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – The ex-chief of staff to former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia has reached a plea agreement with prosecutors that would spare her prison time if a federal judge approves.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock agreed to accept Genoveva Andrade’s change of plea, but he said he will take the plea agreement under consideration pending Andrade’s sentencing on April 7.
Andrade, 49, wiped away tears during the remote hearing on Monday as she changed her plea to guilty for all six counts she faces including extortion, conspiracy and making false statements. She is accused of taking part in an extortion scheme with Correia – who was the mayor of Fall River at the time – to shakedown prospective businesses who wanted to open marijuana shops in the city.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary R. Hafer outlined details in the case, saying evidence and testimony would show Andrade was present with Correia when the mayor demanded $250,000 from Charles Saliby – a corner store owner who wanted to open a dispensary – in exchange for what’s called a “letter of non-opposition.” The document was required by law at the time to open a marijuana business in a host community.
Hafer said Saliby negotiated a bribe of $125,000 (that was later upped to $150,000, according to prosecutors).
Hafer said Andrade was present in the mayor’s city-owned vehicle when Saliby gave Correia $75,000, or half of the bribe payment. Investigators said the second half of the payment would come when the business was approved by state regulators.
In another instance, Hafer said Andrade scolded the mayor and a middleman in the extortion scheme named Antonio Costa for exchanging a cash bribe in front of a window.
“‘You shouldn’t be handing out cash in front of windows,'” Andrade said, according to Hafer.
Costa has already pleaded guilty for his role in the scheme.
Prosecutors said Andrade also agreed to give Correia half of her salary – as well as a $10,000 stipend she received from the city – to “get and keep her job.” In all, Hafer said Andrade gave Correia $22,800.
After listening to Hafer outline the government’s facts of the case, Woodlock asked Andrade, “is that what happened?”
“Yes sir,” she responded.
It remains unclear if Andrade has agreed to testify against her former boss, but the plea agreement Woodlock is considering would spare her prison time; she would then be on probation for a year. Considering the extortion count alone comes with a maximum penalty of 20 years behind bars, it is a substantial concession by the government.
A call to Andrade’s attorney Charles Rankin was not immediately returned. Elizabeth McCarthy, a spokesperson for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling, would not comment when asked if Andrade was cooperating.
The plea agreement also states that Andrade promises not to “false or misleading testimony in any proceeding relating to the criminal conduct charges in this case and any relevant conduct for which” she is accountable.
Woodlock still needs to sign off on the plea agreement.
The trial against Correia is slated to begin in February, but has been pushed back several times because of the pandemic.
Along with the marijuana extortion allegations, Correia is accused of allegedly defrauding investors in his now-defunct app SnoOwl. The case was combined into one trial that includes two dozen counts including extortion, bribery, wire fraud, conspiracy and filing false tax returns.
Correia refused to step down from office despite the federal indictments, and 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.
He has pleaded not guilty.
Along with Andrade and Costa, two others have also pleaded guilty in this case: Hildegar Camara, of Fall River; and David Hebert, of Westport.