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Lawmakers: Stop pot licenses in Fall River until alleged bribes are probed

SE Mass
Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia_547724

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) – Lawmakers who represent Fall River are calling on state regulators to stop issuing marijuana licenses in the city after the mayor was indicted for allegedly taking bribes from pot companies.

State Reps. Carole Fiola, Alan Silvia and Paul Schmid, all Democrats who represent Fall River, wrote a joint letter Tuesday to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, asking the agency to halt any pending approvals of retail and medical marijuana applications in the city.

The trio raised concerns about the controversial community host agreements and letters of non-opposition that marijuana businesses must get from municipal leaders where they want to set up shop.

Federal prosecutors on Friday announced a grand jury indicted Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia for allegedly abusing that local power, extorting marijuana businesses for cash, among other things. One bribe was allegedly paid in the form of 12 to 15 pounds of marijuana.

“The alleged actions of the mayor in the issuance of the letters of non-opposition and the negotiation of the community host agreements appear to have been compromised,” wrote the lawmakers.

In light of the new charges — the second time the 27-year-old mayor has been arrested in the last year — the three lawmakers said there needs to be review of all the deals to ensure they were made legally.

A review would also make sure law-abiding business were not denied support because they refused to play ball with “the alleged nefarious action of Mayor Correia.”

As of last week, the commission listed five enterprises that were somewhere in the process of getting a marijuana license for Fall River. Only one, Northeast Alternatives Inc., was currently operating. Three others — Greener Leaf Inc., Hope Heal Health Inc. and Nature’s Remedies — had a provisional license. The fifth, The Haven Center Inc., was listed as having submitted an application.

The community host agreements are contracts negotiated between a municipality and a marijuana establishment that stipulate how the business will operate in the community. Without that agreement and a letter of non-opposition, state regulators will not approve the final license required to do business.

Many were quick to scrutinize the community host agreements after they were first introduced last year when the CCC issued regulations of recreational marijuana. Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, and the first license was issued last year.

Among critics’ top concerns was the potential that giving so much power over a potentially lucrative business to a municipal official could tempt local leaders into corrupt acts.

Federal investigators allege that happened with Correia, accusing the mayor of issuing letters of support to four marijuana vendors in exchange for bribes. Prosecutors accuse him of lowering one company’s required payment to the city under a community host agreement in exchange for increasing the size of a bribe.

Correia pleaded not guilty to the charges and returned to work Monday, just as he did last year when he was arrested and charged with misleading investors of his private business. The Fall River City Council is slated to vote Tuesday night on whether to remove him from office.

The Fall River Herald News first reported the lawmakers’ letter.

A spokesperson told WPRI 12 the Cannabis Control Commission had received the letter from the Fall River lawmakers, adding there are no license applications from the city scheduled for a provisional or final vote during its next meeting Thursday.

“The commission will determine whether any additional action is necessary as more information about the marijuana vendors involved in the indictment becomes available from the U.S. Attorney’s Office,” spokesperson Maryalice Gill wrote in an email.

The lawmakers are hoping the commission will listen to them.

“The city of Fall River is facing a most serious challenge,” the three wrote. “We ask that you take this necessary step to ensure that trust, confidence and integrity in the licensing process can be restored here and throughout the commonwealth.”

Eli Sherman (esherman@wpri.com) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for WPRI 12. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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