FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — The 26-year-old mayor of Fall River, indicted on 13 federal charges, declared Thursday evening he was “innocent of all the allegations” and would “absolutely not be resigning” as mayor.
Jasiel Correia, a Democrat in his second term as mayor, was arrested Thursday morning in Bridgewater after a grand jury indicted him on nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in federal court in Boston Thursday afternoon.
“I want to reassure all of my constituents that these unfortunate circumstances will in no way impact the functioning of city government, or my commitment to work as hard as I possibly can, every day, to represent the citizens of the great City of Fall River,” Correia said in a statement.
Correia emerged from federal court all smiles, waving to cameras and even giving a double-thumbs up.
“It’s not my best Thursday, it’s raining today,” he told reporters. “I don’t like to be out in the rain. … I love the city of Fall River – I’m going to go back to my office tonight and back to work serving the people of Fall River.”
Staffers in Correia’s office initially said to expect a news conference there, and reporters and photographers waited for several hours before being told the mayor would not be returning to Fall River Government Center for the evening.
City Councilman Leo Pelletier called on Correia to resign Thursday evening, telling Eyewitness News he would vote “no confidence” in Correia if such a vote were held.
“How can he run the city of Fall River with all the problems that he has?” Pelletier said. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Council Vice-President Pam Laliberte-Lebeau agreed, saying she would vote to remove Correia.
“I think that if I’m the mayor and I really do love the city of Fall River, my family and my supporters, I would be stepping down,” Laliberte-Lebeau said. “And stopping any further embarrassment.”
Other councilors hedged, saying they needed more time to digest the information in the indictment.
“I’m very conflicted right now,” Councilman Stephen Long said. “It’s a sad day for the city.”
Councilman Joseph Camara declined to comment, saying he needed a “fuller understanding of the charges.”
Councilman Steve Camara said he didn’t have a comment on the mayor’s indictment, but did say he didn’t want to remove him from office while he is awaiting trial. “I will not vote to remove him from office believing he has the right to defend his ‘not guilty’ plea in court,’ Camara wrote in an email.
Council President Cliff Ponte said Friday there were no current plans to hold a special city council meeting on the matter, and offered no indication of whether he supports removing the mayor or asking him to step down.
“My focus at this point is to ensure that the residents of the city of Fall River are protected and there isn’t a change in the business of government,” Ponte said in a statement. “The people of Fall River are resilient and our community is strong. We will move forward with determination to overcome adversity and to set forth our goals and ideals.”
The other four councilors did not immediately return phone calls or emails.
It is so far unclear whether the City Council would take steps against Correia. The new city charter, approved in 2017, does not have an impeachment provision but does allow the city council to determine if a mayor is “unable to perform the duties of the office.”
The charter says seven of the council’s nine members would need to vote that the mayor cannot perform his duties, after which the council president would become acting mayor. The document does not say whether criminal charges would cause a mayor to be unable to perform his or her duties, but says it could be “by reason of sickness or other cause.”
Fall River residents are no strangers to mayoral scandal. Voters recalled Mayor Will Flanagan from office in 2014 after he allegedly flashed a gun at Correia, then a city councilor. Flanagan was replaced by Sam Sutter, who went on to lose re-election to Correia in 2015.
Federal prosecutors say all the while, Correia was defrauding investors who contributed to his app company SnoOwl, soliciting checks for tens of thousands of dollars and then spending their money on his “lavish lifestyle.”
Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said the money was spent on a Mercedes, jewelry, designer clothing, airfare, hotels, restaurants, casinos and adult entertainment. He said Correia even used the investors’ money to fund his political campaign, pay down student loan debt and make charitable donations.
“This fraud was committed by an elected official who was supposed to be a trustworthy advocate for the interest of his constituents,” Lelling said at a news conference.
Correia claimed the allegations had nothing to do with his job as mayor, an assertion directly disputed by FBI Special Agent in Charge Hank Shaw.
“Mr. Correia blurred the lines between his private business and public duties, using investor funds as his own personal ATM,” Shaw said.
Correia is due back in court in December.