BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) — A co-conspirator of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia whose testimony helped secure the former mayor’s conviction has been sentenced to probation and home confinement, escaping jail time for his role in the corruption case.
Antonio “Tony” Costa pleaded guilty in 2019 and cooperated with prosecutors, testifying at Correia’s trial to serving as a middleman in the former mayor’s scheme to extort bribes from businessmen seeking to open marijuana shops in the city.
He apologized for his actions shortly before the sentence was handed down.
“I’d like to apologize to the judge, to the court for my involvement and my actions for the crimes that I committed,” Costa said in U.S District Court in Boston. “I want to sincerely apologize.”
Judge Douglas Woodlock imposed a sentence of three years probation, with the first 15 months in home confinement. Costa will be permitted to leave home confinement to go to work, and to serve 100 hours of community service. He was also given a $10,000 fine, and will have to forfeit $107,000 in ill-gotten gains from the extortion.
Woodlock acknowledged that eschewing incarceration was a “striking departure” from the norm and the federal sentencing guidelines.
While the maximum sentence for Costa’s crimes could have landed him in prison for decades, prosecutors had recommended that he serve no jail time because he helped prosecutors break open the case against the former mayor.
“We simply couldn’t have made this case without Mr. Costa,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer said.
Costa, 53, pleaded guilty in 2019 to two counts of extortion, two counts of extortion conspiracy and one count of making false statements, waiving indictment by the federal grand jury investigating the extortion case. In the plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to charge him with money laundering, marijuana distribution, obstruction of justice and perjury.
At Correia’s trial, Costa said he helped secure the extortion of two marijuana vendors — David Brayton and Brian Bairos, the latter of which included a bribe of both cash and marijuana — in exchange for initial approval letters from the mayor’s office for their businesses.
In the sentencing hearing Monday, Hafer noted that while Costa had at one point lied prior to cooperating with prosecutors, his ultimate cooperation in the case “opened the floodgates” to a slew of other witnesses prosecutors were unaware of at the time.
Costa was the first defendant in the case to be sentenced, after Woodlock threw out Genoveva Andrade’s plea agreement earlier this month. Andrade, Correia’s former chief of staff, had pleaded guilty in December and negotiated a sentence that did not include jail time, which Woodlock disagreed with.
Co-conspirators Hildegar Camara and David Hebert, who have also pleaded guilty, are slated to be sentenced next month.
Jasiel Correia was convicted by a jury last month of 21 criminal charges, and plans to appeal the conviction. He has not yet been sentenced and is currently free on bail with an ankle monitor.
Ahead of his sentencing Monday, Costa asked the court for leniency, writing in an affidavit that his income from his property management company provides for his mother and disabled sister, both of whom live with him.
The prosecutors’ pre-sentencing memo agreed with Costa, calling his level of cooperation “extraordinary.”
“Put simply, without Costa’s cooperation, there is no federal corruption case against former Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia,” prosecutors wrote.
Woodlock at first appeared skeptical about the suggestion that he not send Costa to prison, speaking of other bribery cases such as the Varsity Blues college admissions scandal, where defendants were sent to jail.
But Costa’s attorney Daniel Rabinovitz noted that Costa is a decidedly different from the privileged defendants in the Varsity Blues case.
Costa, an immigrant from Portugal, dropped out of school in sixth grade to work and provide for his family, according to his sentencing memo.
Woodlock also questioned whether Costa was honest throughout the case, asking about the eyebrow-raising testimony at trial that he used Bairos’ bribery money to take nine elderly women on a cruise, apparently in conflict with previous statements that he used the cash to pay bills.
“It made me laugh,” Hafer said. But he said prosecutors believed Costa’s explanation that he took his mother and her friends on the trip.
Woodlock said Costa’s community service would need to be hands-on work that the citizens of Fall River would otherwise have to pay for, such as cleaning or other physical services.
Noting Costa’s previous involvement in drug dealing, Woodlock said he isn’t certain that he won’t get involved in criminal activity again.
“You’ve made mistakes. That’s an understatement,” Woodlock said directly to Costa at the end of the hearing. “But you did the right thing when it came time to be accountable for it.”