BOSTON (WPRI) — Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II is set to go on trial Tuesday, accused of extorting marijuana businesses, defrauding tech investors and lying to the IRS.
Jury selection is scheduled for 9 a.m. in the criminal trial of the youngest mayor to be elected in Fall River history, who fell spectacularly in his second term amid a barrage of federal charges.
The trial is taking place in U.S. District Court in Boston and is expected to last about three weeks, once jury selection is complete.
Here’s what you need to know ahead of the trial.
Correia was arrested by federal authorities twice during his second term as mayor, first for allegedly defrauding investors in his app SnoOwl, then for an elaborate scheme where he is accused of extorting marijuana companies for bribes in exchange for his sign-off to open cannabis shops in the city.
Former U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling — who brought the original charges prior to leaving his job earlier this year — called Correia’s alleged behavior an “outrageous, brazen campaign of corruption which turned his job into a personal ATM.”
Correia, 29, faces more than 20 charges including extortion, bribery, wire fraud, filing false tax returns and conspiracy.
Four co-conspirators, including Correia’s mayoral chief of staff Genoveva Andrade, have already pleaded guilty in the case. In a bribery count against Correia, he’s accused of requiring Andrade to give him $22,800 of her city salary in order to keep her job.
The alleged crimes date back to 2013, when Correia sought investors for a now-defunct app called SnoOwl, which purported to give restaurant recommendations. (In a now-infamous 2018 news conference, Correia displayed photos of the app helping a customer find vegan cheddar soup.)
While Correia collected more than $300,000 from investors in the startup, prosecutors say he actually used most of the money to fund a “lavish” lifestyle, including purchasing a Mercedes, designer clothes and adult entertainment, and also used the money to fund his burgeoning political career. He didn’t disclose the income on his tax returns, prosecutors allege.
Elected mayor in 2015 at the age of 23, Correia almost immediately began extorting people for bribes in exchange for favors from his powerful office, according to prosecutors.
As mayor, Correia had the power to approve of prospective marijuana shops by signing a letter of non-opposition, which was required by the host community for the applicant to submit to the state Cannabis Control Commission.
Correia is accused of extorting multiple marijuana vendors for hundreds of thousands of dollars, sending middlemen to meet the business owners and pressure them to pay the bribes in exchange for the letters. Andrade, who pleaded guilty to her own role in the events, admitted to being present when some of the bribes were paid.
Correia is also accused of extorting cash and a designer watch from a building owner on Kilburn Street in order to get permits to do work on his building.
Correia has repeatedly denied the charges and has pleaded not guilty in court. He initially refused to resign as mayor, and was recalled by a majority of voters in March 2019 — only to be immediately re-elected on the same ballot by a plurality of voters in a five-way race.
He pressed forward with his campaign for a third term in office, but stepped aside shortly before the November 2019 election, though his name remained on the ballot. He lost overwhelmingly to now-Mayor Paul Coogan.
If convicted, prosecutors have filed a forfeiture claim for all assets Correia has obtained with money from the alleged bribery and investment schemes.
We won’t know exactly who the attorneys will call to the witness stand until it happens, but court filings indicate the federal government could call dozens of witnesses, from former city employees to businesspeople and marijuana applicants who were victims or otherwise involved in the alleged scheme.
Three of Correia’s accused co-conspirators who have already pleaded guilty — Antonio Costa, Hildegar Camara and David Hebert — are on the prosecution’s witness list, filed in December.
The updated list was filed one day after Andrade changed her plea to guilty, in order to remove witnesses who had been slated to testify against her in what would have been a joint trial with Correia. Her name is not on that December witness list, and it’s unclear if she has since been called to testify against her former boss.
An updated witness list with approximate dates and times for each witness’s testimony was filed last week, but the names are redacted. There are more than 30 witnesses listed on the prosecution’s approximate schedule, which stretches until May 5.
On the defense side, a possible witness list of 19 people includes former Fall River city administrator Cathy Ann Viveiros, who mounted a failed write-in campaign for mayor in 2019 when Correia exited the race; former City Council candidate Collin Dias; and Mary Sahady, listed on the city website as the director of financial services.
Correia is also listed as a possible witness in his own defense.
Correia was first arrested back in October 2018, but his trial was pushed back repeatedly during the COVID-19 pandemic as the court sought to make sure it could be conducted safely and in person.
Jury selection will begin Tuesday with 30 potential jurors reporting at 9 a.m., and another 30 jurors reporting in the afternoon, according to a court spokesperson. More jurors may be called on Wednesday if needed.
While 12 jurors will decide Correia’s fate, 14 to 16 will be selected from the pool including alternates. The jurors can be called from any of nine Massachusetts counties east of Worcester, including Bristol County, where Fall River is located.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock is limiting the capacity of the courtroom to 26 people for social distancing, which will preclude members of the public from attending, though an overflow room will be set up at the courthouse with a video feed.
At least two witnesses have requested to testify remotely due to health concerns.
The jurors, judge, court staff, attorneys and Correia will make up the majority of the people allowed in the courtroom, while Correia has also asked that his parents and fiancée be permitted to attend.
It’s not yet clear if a pool reporter will be allowed in the courtroom. Federal court prohibits news outlets from broadcasting or publishing any video or audio from the trial.
The prosecution’s proposed schedule has opening statements starting next Monday. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Zachary Hafer, David Tobin and Carol Head are prosecuting the case for the federal government.
Correia is represented by defense attorney Kevin Reddington.