Ex-mayor Correia found guilty of extortion, fraud; vows ‘the fight’s not over’

SE Mass

BOSTON (WPRI) — The former mayor of Fall River has been found guilty of defrauding investors in his now-defunct startup company and extorting bribes from prospective marijuana business owners.

Jasiel Correia, 29, was convicted of 21 of the 24 criminal counts he faced, which included nine counts of wire fraud and four counts each of extortion, extortion conspiracy, and filing false tax returns.

He was acquitted of three individual counts of bribery, extortion and conspiracy.

As the verdict was read aloud, Correia mostly looked forward as his sister wept silently, according to the pool reporter inside the courtroom. Once court was adjourned, the family embraced.

Correia faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, and his sentencing was scheduled for Sept. 20. He continued to be released on his existing bail in the meantime, with the addition of an ankle monitor.

Correia defiantly maintained his innocence as he left the courthouse, saying he will be “vindicated” on appeal.

“This is not a great day, but I’ve had other not-great days and everybody here knows that,” he said. “But we’re going to have a great day of vindication and eventually the real truth will come out.”

Correia confirmed he was offered a plea deal in the case. When asked why he didn’t take it, Correia replied: “Because I’m not guilty.”

He not respond to questions about why he didn’t take the stand in his own defense during the trial.

In a news conference with reporters outside the courthouse, Correia’s defense attorney Kevin Reddington said he and his client plan to file “a vigorous appeal,” which could possibly include concerns about how the trial was conducted differently due to the pandemic.

Asked why he didn’t call his client to the stand, Reddington replied: “next question.”

“The jury found today, in its verdict, the truth,” Acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Mendell said outside court. “[Correia] defrauded investors, lied on his taxes, and extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars of bribes as mayor of Fall River.”

Correia was convicted on all of the counts related to SnoOwl, his former app that he launched after college. While running for City Council, Correia solicited investment money but spent it on a “lavish lifestyle,” prosecutors convinced the jury. He was found guilty of nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns in connection with the scheme.

He was also convicted of extorting four separate businessmen who sought to open marijuana stores in the city, but needed a letter of non-opposition from the mayor before they could proceed. He required them to pay bribes in exchange for the letters, the four marijuana vendors testified at trial. They all received immunity and were listed as victims in the indictment.

Two of the guilty counts involved a man named Charles Saliby, who said he directly handed Correia a $75,000 cash bribe in his city-owned SUV.

“He sold his office, and he sold out the people of Fall River,” Mendell said.

“Jasiel Correia was only a two-term mayor, but he has done lasting damage to the trust bestowed upon him by the citizens of Fall River,” said Special Agent in Charge Joseph Bonavolonta of the FBI’s Boston office.

But the jury declined to convict the former mayor of taking a bribe from his former chief of staff Genoveva Andrade, who has already pleaded guilty to her role in the extortion scheme. Prosecutors said she paid him a kickback of half her salary, but did not call her to the stand to testify about it.

“It was our judgment that that wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the case,” Mendell said when asked why Andrade was not called.

The jury also acquitted Correia of one count of extortion and one count of extortion conspiracy, which were both tied to an accusation that he received a Rolex watch in exchange for getting landlord Tony Costa a water permit for his building.

The jurors appeared to asked a question about the Rolex counts on Thursday, inquiring to the judge whether extortion applied if the defendant expected to get a gift after the fact. The judge replied that the quid-pro-quo must be established prior to “official act” committed by the defendant, even if the item of value is provided afterwards. But if the item is considered a gift or gratuity, it does not fit the definition of the crime.

“I didn’t get the Rolex,” Correia told Target 12 Friday morning while walking into court.

Correia was arrested twice while mayor of Fall River, first accused of defrauding investors in his tech app, then again for allegedly extorting bribes from prospective marijuana vendors, a building owner and his then-chief of staff. Correia denied the allegations.

Four co-conspirators charged alongside Correia have all pleaded guilty, including Andrade.

Over the course of the trial, the jury heard from 36 witnesses, all but three for the government, including two of the four co-conspirators. The jury began deliberations Tuesday morning.

The jury submitted its first question to the judge Thursday afternoon, seeking clarification about an extortion charge, then submitted a second question Friday morning before announcing it had reached a verdict.

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