BOSTON (WPRI) — A second co-conspirator in the extortion case of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia has escaped prison time in the case, this time against the recommendation of prosecutors.
U.S. District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock on Wednesday sentenced Hildegar Camara, a former Fall River city official, to 18 months of home confinement, three years probation and 150 hours of community service. He will be allowed to leave his home during the day for work, medical appointments and religious purposes.
Prosecutors had recommended a prison sentence of three months, significantly shorter than the sentencing guidelines of roughly five to six years for his crimes.
Camara pleaded guilty in 2019 to six total counts of extortion, conspiracy and making false statements in the case, which carried a maximum sentence of 20 years.
Camara is the second defendant in the case to be sentenced and avoid jail time, following the sentencing of Tony Costa last month. In contrast, prosecutors had recommended no prison time for Costa because he was the first to cooperate with prosecutors, essentially cracking open the case against Correia.
Prosecutors also noted that unlike Costa, Camara was a public official, which carries more weight in the sentencing guidelines.
“These are serious crimes,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer said. “The betrayal of public trust cannot be overlooked.”
But he said they recommended a sentence 95% lower than the guidelines because Camara ultimately cooperated with authorities in the case, providing testimony against Correia and corroborating Costa’s testimony.
“While it is true that Camara’s cooperation did not break open the corruption case in the way that Costa’s did, had Camara chosen not to cooperate, what this court has referred to as the ‘exceptionally important’ case against Fall River’s corrupt former mayor would have been considerably more challenging to prove, and could well have come out differently,” prosecutors wrote in a memorandum supporting the three month prison sentence.
In Boston federal court Wednesday afternoon, Camara apologized for his involvement in the extortion scheme, in which Correia extorted bribes from prospective marijuana businesses that sought approvals to open up shop in the city.
“This case reflects a serious lapse of judgment on my part that was brought about in an attempt to protect a person who I consider almost like a member of my family,” Camara said. “I’m deeply sorry for my actions which have brought shame and embarrassment not only to me but to my wife and daughter and other members of my family.”
Camara was a close friend of Correia’s and was appointed by the former mayor as executive director of the Bristol County Training Consortium.
He testified during Correia’s trial to being involved in the extortion of two men, Brian Bairos and David Brayton, who separately paid bribes to Correia in order to get a letter of non-opposition from the mayor’s office for their cannabis stores.
He told the court about one situation in which Costa left a cash bribe from Bairos for Correia in Camara’s backyard shed, which Camara was afraid to touch because he thought it might be “fed money.”
Costa ultimately kept the cash for himself and took nine elderly women on a cruise, he said, and Bairos paid the bribe in marijuana instead.
Woodlock noted that while Costa profited from the extortion scheme by keeping some of the money, Camara did not. He actually lost money in the case by investing $50,000 in Correia’s tech app SnoOwl, which he never recouped. Correia was convicted of defrauding investors in the app.
“The former mayor defrauded me and caused me and my family to lose $50,000,” Camara said in court. “I’ve worked hard my whole life to provide for my family and to make Fall River a better community. I pledge to the court that if given the opportunity I will do right by the court, by my family and by my fellow citizens of Fall River.”
In explaining his decision to spare Camara from prison time, Woodlock said Costa had led a life of criminal activity prior to his involvement in the Correia scheme, while Camara had not. His “downfall,” Woodlock said, was loyalty to Correia.
“I think Mr. Camara ultimately did the right thing for the right reasons,” Woodlock said in reference to Camera’s cooperation with prosecutors. “I don’t know that I can say that for Mr. Costa.”
Woodlock is unlikely to show the same leniency to another co-conspirator, Genoveva Andrade, Correia’s former chief of staff. Woodlock rejected Andrade’s plea deal last month at her would-be sentencing hearing because the plea she negotiated with prosecutors included no jail time.
Andrade, who has admitted to her involvement in the extortion scheme, did not sign a cooperation agreement or testify against Correia at trial.
A fourth co-conspirator, David Hebert, is slated to be sentenced in October. He also did not testify against Correia, but has pleaded guilty to his own middleman role. His sentencing was pushed to the fall because he might be called to testify against Andrade if she ends up going to trial, prosecutors wrote in a memo to the court.
A jury convicted former Mayor Correia of 21 out of 24 counts against him in May. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in September, and is currently out on bail with a GPS monitoring device. Correia has said he intends to appeal his conviction.