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Fall River council president calls for mayor’s removal; mayor offers ‘transparency’

SE Mass

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Fall River history appeared to repeat itself Monday when Mayor Jasiel Correia, released on bond by a judge, returned to his sixth-floor office amid calls for his resignation or removal.

The same series of events played out almost identically last fall when Correia was first arrested on federal fraud charges connected to his now-defunct startup SnoOwl. The then-26-year-old declared he was innocent and would not resign. Some city council members attempted to unseat him, but they could not garner enough support.

Fast-forward nearly a year and Correia on Friday was again proclaiming his innocence and announcing he would not step down after being arrested on an additional 13 federal counts, this time including allegations that he accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes from marijuana companies looking to do business in the city.

The 27-year-old Democrat offered no comment to a WPRi 12 reporter waiting outside as he made his way into Government Center on Monday morning. Court records showed he posted $25,000 bond during the day, as ordered by a judge at his arraignment in Boston last week.

Hours later, Fall River City Council President Cliff Ponte submitted a letter to the city clerk’s office addressed to Correia, once again calling for him to resign and threatening to call a vote Tuesday to remove him from office if he failed to do so.

In his letter, Ponte referred to Home Rule Charter Article 3, Section 3-8, which outlines a procedure the council can take to temporarily replace a mayor should he or she be unable to perform the duties of the office.

It’s the same provision the council cited last fall after Correia’s initial arrest. At the time, the city’s corporation counsel issued an opinion saying he didn’t believe the council had the legal standing to remove Correia through a vote.

Seven council members would need to vote in favor of removing Correia for it to pass. Last fall, the proposal earned five favorable votes.

As of early Monday evening, Council President Ponte, Council Vice President Pam Laliberte-Lebeau, Councilman Leo Pelletier and Councilman Stephen Long all said they would support removing Correia from office — three votes shy of the necessary seven.

However, Councilman Steven Camara said he plans to object to the anticipated motion Tuesday night, which could push the issue to the next council meeting and after the preliminary election on Sept. 17.

Other members of the council have not yet responded to requests for comment from WPRI 12.

In his letter, Ponte told Correia his resignation or removal was necessary because the new charges are “directly related to your role as mayor.”

“[Y]ou have utilized the power of your position for personal monetary gain through several alleged schemes, three of which are outright theft of city funds,” the letter continues.

“I believe now is the time that you really do what is best for Fall River and temporarily step aside from your duties as Mayor of the City of Fall River,” Ponte wrote, adding, “I think that we would both agree that if this was a Department Head, or any other City employee, they would be put on administrative leave effective immediately, pending the outcome of this investigation. Elected officials should not be treated any differently.”

On Monday evening, Correia posted a letter responding to Ponte on his Facebook page.

“I would like to extend the offer that in the immediate future and on a voluntary basis, the City Council President or Vice President have the opportunity to ‘co-sign’ official documents as an additional level of comfort for the Council,” Correia wrote. “As City Council President, this affords you to assure the public that all city business is being reviewed, approved and conducted in accordance with local ordinances and state and federal requirements.”

Tuesday’s council meeting comes one week before the city’s preliminary election, when Correia will square off against two opponents: Paul Coogan and Erica Scott-Pacheco. Two of the three will move on to the general election on Nov. 5.

Coogan narrowly lost to Correia in the March recall election. A two-term school committee member, Coogan said he has decades of experience in the education field.

“I think there’s a number of factors that would make me the best candidate for the mayor of Fall River: honesty, integrity, temperament, work ethic, my career, how much time I’ve given to the city,” he said.

Scott-Pacheco, who trailed behind the others in the recall with fewer than 800 votes, is a fundraising director at a nonprofit and a self-described community advocate.

“It’s really important that we have someone with a strong financial management background to make sure that all of our tax dollars are being spent wisely,” she said.

Correia did not respond to phone calls or text messages requesting an interview Monday, though he did address speculation on social media and local radio that he had gotten married over the weekend.

“I did not get married,” he wrote in a text message.

The city clerk’s office confirmed there was no record of Correia’s supposed union.

Steph Machado contributed to this report.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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