FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — It was November 2014 when Victor Martinez invested $25,000 in a startup called Sno-Owl, an app designed to help diners connect with restaurants. The app was the brainchild of a 22-year-old entrepreneur.
His name was Jasiel Correia.
“On paper, the guy looked great,” recalled Martinez, the co-founder of the pizza chain Piezoni’s.
“Don’t forget, I’m an entrepreneur myself,” he continued. “The way I look at things is: there’s a lot of people out there with great ideas that would love the opportunity to get an investor to actually invest in their ideas so they can go ahead and create a business out of it.”
Martinez met Correia through his friend, Mark Eisenberg.
“We didn’t meet with him to invest in the app, we met with him because the meeting was supposed to be about helping him launch whole app situation,” he recalled.
But in late 2014, both Martinez and Eisenberg ended up investing $25,000 apiece.
Fast forward to April of 2021, when all three men found themselves once again in the same place: federal court in Boston.
Eisenberg and Martinez took to the witness stand (Eisenberg via Zoom from Florida) to testify against Correia. Both told a jury they would never have knowingly invested in the company if they knew Correia would use the funds on personal expenses.
The jury ultimately found Correia guilty of 21 criminal counts.
Martinez said he saw the red flags long before the criminal proceedings began, when Correia announced he was running for mayor of Fall River.
“I remember me texting Mark right away saying, ‘Hey that project is done, just forget about it. This is not going to go anywhere,'” he said.
Martinez said he didn’t think someone who was serious about launching a startup could also devote the time to a campaign for public office.
“The minute I got the news that he was running for mayor I said, ‘Our money’s gone.’ I knew that right away,” he said.
On Monday, a judge acquitted Correia of eight counts, including one of two wire fraud counts connected to Martinez’ $25,000 investment. Then on Tuesday, the judge handed down a six-year sentence on the 13 remaining charges.
Prosecutors had asked for an 11-year sentence, which Martinez thought was appropriate.
“I thought that was the right sentence for this type of crime, but I still believe in our justice system,” he said.
Correia plans to appeal. He has not been given a date to report to prison.
Despite his entanglement with Correia, Martinez said he still sees the good in people.
“I still will invest in a great idea,” Martinez said. “A little more careful next time. You never know.”