BOSTON (WPRI) – A contractor testified on Tuesday that the city of Fall River set up an “unusual” payment method for work he did in reconnecting a water line to a commercial property.
Michel Khoury, owner of Khoury Excavating Inc., said he charged the city $11,000 for reconnecting a water line to a property on Kilburn Street. But instead of paying the bill through normal means, then-Mayor Jasiel Correia’s administration offered to double up on payments the city would give to Khoury for plowing the streets during the winter.
“It was a little bit unusual, yes,” Khoury testified during his turn on the witness stand in the former mayor’s corruption trial.
Ultimately, there wasn’t enough plow work to cover the entire tab, so Khoury sent the city a bill for $7,950, which was ultimately paid.
Fall River director of community maintenance John Perry – who was elevated to the position by Correia – said he got a call from the then-mayor and was directed to reconnect the water line to the property, owned by Antonio “Tony” Costa, a Fall River landlord who was friends with Correia.
Perry said the mayor instructed him that the city would take care of the work, when the normal process is for a property owner to pay the bill then request reimbursement from the city if they had a dispute.
“I thought it was odd, but the mayor asked me to take care of it, so I did,” Perry recalled.
On Monday, jeweler Edward Silva testified he provided a Rolex “Batman” watch – valued at $9,000 – to Costa in lieu of rent payment, and that the watch was going to end up on Correia’s wrist.
“[Costa] said that the mayor was doing some work on one of the buildings on Kilburn Street and the watch was going to be payment for some watermain or some sort of sprinklers,” Silva said.
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.
Prosecutors say Costa acted as a middleman in bribe payments to Correia in exchange for crucial “letters of non-opposition” for businesses that wanted to obtain a marijuana license to operate in the city.
Also on the stand was Brian Bairos, a marijuana businessman, who was trying to open a cannabis shop in Fall River. Bairos testified he was originally told by Costa it would cost $250,000 to get a non-opposition letter, but he negotiated it down to $150,000, with the payments made in installments.
Bairos said at one point he gave $25,000 in cash to Costa, who left it in the shed of a Hildegar Camara, a backyard neighbor of Costa’s who worked for the city and was close to Correia. But Bairos said the payment was rejected because there was an ongoing federal investigation into Correia at the time.
“They didn’t like the money,” Bairos said. “They thought it was fed money.”
So Bairos told the jury he agreed to pay some of the bribe in marijuana that could later be resold, though he said Costa complained about its quality and reduced its value.
Bairos was granted immunity by prosecutors for his testimony.
On cross examination Correia’s attorney Kevin Reddington suggested it was Costa who was pocketing the bribe money, and noted Bairos was an avid political donor.
Prosecutor David Tobin shot back asking Bairos if he ever “stuffed $25,000 in cash in an envelope to Charlie Baker?”
“No,” Bairos replied.
Camara then took the stand and said he first met Correia in 2006 when the future mayor was going to high school with his daughter. He said Correia was close with his family, and when the mayor took office, he appointed Camara to a city post as the executive director of the Bristol County Consortium.
Camara was also an investor in Correia’s SnoOwl app, giving Correia $50,000 ($25,000 of which Camara testified he put on a credit card). Prosecutors alleged in the first week of the trial that Correia used investor money to fuel a lavish lifestyle.
Camara also said as the federal investigation was heating up, the mayor was growing nervous. Camara said Correia told him “If everyone just keeps their mouth shut, we’ll be OK.”
Adding the then-mayor said, “Tony [Costa] is the only guy who can screw me.”
Camara is expected to be cross-examined by Reddington on Wednesday.
Steph Machado and Sarah Guernelli contributed to this report.