BOSTON, Mass. (WPRI) – The former mayor of Fall River, whose rapid political rise as the youngest mayor in the city’s history ended in a sweeping public corruption and fraud conviction, has lost his appeal before the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Correia, 30, reported to a federal prison in New Hampshire in April to begin his six-year prison stint. His current release date — including credit for good behavior if he steers clear of trouble during his time behind bars — is April 2027.

In an 82-page decision written by U.S. Circuit Judge Bruce Selya, a three-member panel rejected Correia’s argument that the prosecution made improper statements during trial, the government failed to present adequate evidence for some of the counts, and other grounds.

The decision, dated Monday, was released Tuesday morning.

“The record reveals that the defendant was fairly tried and lawfully convicted by an impartial jury in a trial presided over by an able judge and unblemished by any reversible error,” Selya wrote in the conclusion.

A key issue for defense attorneys was the use of a video clip by the government during closing arguments which they said caused the jury to be “prejudiced” against Correia. Prosecutors played video from a 2015 mayoral debate in which Correia touted his SnoOwl app, which eventually became a key part of the criminal case against him.

The court noted it had concern over the government’s use of the video because it can have a “chilling effect on political speech — the very category of speech as to which the First Amendment affords the highest level of protection.”

“To be sure, statements made in the heat of a political campaign cannot and should not always be taken literally,” Selya wrote. “That does not mean, though, that the campaigner is entitled to a free pass.”

The appellate court ultimately decided the use of the video had no effect on the jury’s ultimate decision.

“The deployment of the video clip and the comments associated with it appear to have been little more than a rhetorical device, thrice repeated,” the court wrote. “And even though the
challenged comments may have suggested that the voters of Fall River had been duped, nothing in the record suggests that invoking the plight of those voters would have clouded the jury’s ability to weigh the evidence fairly.”

Correia now has just one option left to appeal his conviction, petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. In an email, Correia’s attorney Daniel Marx declined to comment on the decision.

Correia stands convicted of 11 counts of fraud, extortion and conspiracy following his trial last year, where the jury found that he defrauded investors in his tech app SnoOwl and shook down marijuana vendors for bribes while he was mayor.

The jury convicted him of 21 total counts, but the trial judge later tossed out 10 counts based on technicalities in the law, a decision the judge said did not affect the length of the former mayor’s sentence.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachel Rollins said:

“The First Circuit has officially confirmed what the jury determined about Mr. Correia’s conduct. It was corrupt, deceitful and egregious. The people of Fall River elected and entrusted Mr. Correia to serve them with honesty and integrity. Instead, they fell victim to his ego and acts of corruption. With this dark chapter behind them, this vibrant city is moving forward.”

In addition to the prison sentence, Correia was ordered to pay restitution to the victims in the case, including from the dismissed counts.

The court also examined the claims that there was insufficient evidence to support the convictions. Specifically with the SnoOwl fraud arm of the case, the verdict has to stand “unless the evidence is so scant” the jury should not have concluded the government proved the elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

The court found that was not the case here.

“Specifically, a reasonable jury could have found from the proffered evidence that the defendant falsely represented that investor money would be used only to develop the SnoOwl app,” Selya wrote.

Defense attorneys argued the government failed to prove that Correia’s stated reasons for seeking investments for the SnoOwl app were fraudulent because — as the court summarized — “he did not use false or fraudulent pretenses because his representations were, variously, puffery, true, or never uttered.” In other words, attorneys argue, Correia did not mislead investors with how the money would be spent.

“This rebuttal is all foam and no beer,” Selya wrote.

The judge said Correia’s claims to solicit the funds were based on a lie about a previous app he developed in college called FindIt that he claimed was sold off to Facebook, but in reality had dissolved.

“It is clear beyond hope of contradiction that the defendant’s misrepresentations about FindIt were not merely collateral,” Selya wrote. “After all, particularized factual representations that can definitely be refuted — as opposed to statements of mere opinions — can constitute fraud.”

Defense attorneys also argued that Correia told investors he would be drawing a salary from their money as part of his work on the app. But the court called that claim “a red herring.”

The court said the jury was instructed that prosecutors needed to prove that Correia falsely claimed “investor money for the SnoOwl project would be used to develop the SnoOwl app” or if he concealed that the money would be used for his “personal benefit and not for the development of the SnoOwl app.”

In the marijuana shakedown scheme — the allegation that Correia accepted a $25,000 bribe in exchange for issuing what’s called a “non-opposition letter” for a prospective marijuana pot business — defense attorneys argued the government failed to prove extortion because the mayor was paid after he signed the letter. Thus it was not “quid pro quo.”

But the court said the jury “reasonably could have found” that Correia and the business owner agreed to pay a bribe in exchange “for the documents before the defendant signed them,” adding that it didn’t matter what happened first.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 managing editor and chief investigative reporter at 12 News, and the host of Newsmakers. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.