BOSTON (WPRI) — Jurors in the trial of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia heard testimony Monday about an alleged pay-for-play scheme in the city, whereby Correia allegedly required bribes from prospective marijuana shop owners in exchange for his signature on a crucial document.
It was the start of a new phase of the trial, after jurors heard testimony last week about accusations that Correia defrauded investors in his tech app SnoOwl, and allegedly filed false tax returns to the IRS.
In this next part of the case, prosecutors say then-Mayor Correia used middlemen — who have already pleaded guilty in the case — to obtain bribes from business owners who wanted to open marijuana dispensaries in the city.
In exchange, Correia would sign a letter of non-opposition for the business, which was a requirement for an application to go forward with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission.
First on the stand was David Brayton, then-owner of Xiphias Wellness, who testified he paid a $100,000 bribe to Correia through middleman Antonio “Tony” Costa, a Fall River landlord who was friends with Correia.
“What was your understanding as to what you were paying for?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer asked Brayton on the stand.
“A non-opposition letter,” Brayton replied.
Brayton said the bribe came after he had been trying to open a dispensary in the city but was having trouble getting an approved location. He said he had previously heard you had to pay up to get approval from Correia.
At one point in 2016 he played a round of golf with Hildegar Camara, another alleged co-conspirator who has taken a plea deal in this case.
“On the 18th hole I kind of displayed frustration,” Brayton said. “What do I have to do to get into Fall River?”
A meeting between Brayton and Camara at a Dunkin’ Donuts followed, and Brayton said if he was going to have to pay a bribe, he wanted to deal directly with Costa.
In the memo on the $100,000 check shown to the jury, Brayton wrote: “property management fees/retainer.”
“I couldn’t write in that it was for a bribe,” Brayton said.
Soon after, Correia signed the letter of non-opposition. The marijuana dispensary did open on Globe Street, though Brayton says he has since sold his shares of the company.
Brayton has been granted immunity by prosecutors in exchange for his testimony.
On cross-examination, Correia’s defense attorney Kevin Reddington sought to cast doubt that the bribe was for Correia, implying that it could have been for Costa or Camara.
He pointed out that Costa and Brayton had made a side deal, where Brayton would give Costa 2% of the marijuana sales because he helped him get the approval letter from the city.
But both the defense and prosecution have agreed that only Correia had the power to sign the letter of non-opposition for the marijuana stores.
The jury next heard from Tony Costa, who said Correia requested that he be given the money in cash. Costa said he deposited Brayton’s check in his own account, keeping $20,000 to pay taxes and taking the other $80,000 in cash to give to Correia.
He said Correia came to his house in his city-issued SUV to retrieve the bribe.
“When Jasiel Correia showed up at your home to pick up the cash, Mr. Costa, did he seem surprised or confused about why he was there?” Hafer asked.
“No, he had a smile, and was happy,” Costa said.
Costa also testified that he took a bribe from another prospective marijuana shop owner, Brian Bairos, who paid him $50,000 in cash. Costa said he dropped the cash off in Camara’s shed, who brought it back wearing gloves and said he thought it was “fed money.”
Costa said he kept the money for himself, and instead got Bairos to pay the bribe in pounds of marijuana.
Costa has pleaded guilty to multiple counts of extortion and conspiracy and faces up to 20 years in prison at his sentencing next month. His plea deal with prosecutors allowed him to avoid money laundering and marijuana distribution charges.
He also signed a cooperation agreement requiring him to testify truthfully in the case.
Reddington sought to cast doubt on Costa’s credibility during a lengthy and sometimes tense cross-examination, where he pointed out that Costa had previously lied to the grand jury in this case. Costa said he initially did so to protect Correia.
Also testifying on Monday was Edward Silva, a jeweler who rented a space from Costa and at one point paid rent with a $7,500 Rolex watch.
Costa testified he used that watch as a bribe to Correia when he needed a work permit for a broken water line at a building he owns on Kilburn Street.
“I had a conversation with Jasiel Correia and he told me he would take care of it,” Costa said.
Silva also testified his understanding was that the Rolex would be “payment” for Costa’s water main issue. Silva has been given immunity by prosecutors.