BOSTON (WPRI) — Software developer Joshua Harding took issue with one of then-candidate for mayor Jasiel Correia’s campaign platforms.
Correia, then just 23 years old, was seeking to become the youngest mayor in Fall River’s history and was touting his small business background. At the time, Harding was working for Correia’s nascent SnoOwl startup – an app designed to help diners connect with restaurants – and hadn’t been paid in months, he told jurors Wednesday.
So Harding shot an email to Correia, writing that he found it ironic Correia was touting his small business acumen, “yet you have a small business right under your nose that is suffering.”
At that point, in November 2015, Harding testified that bills central to keeping the app up and running were going unpaid, and the handful of SnoOwl staffers hadn’t seen compensation since July.
Harding later emailed one of SnoOwl’s investors – retired New Bedford businessman Mark Eisenberg – expressing concern about the situation.
“I don’t think it’s too much to ask when we will be paid,” Harding wrote in the November 2015 email displayed in court. “Especially since we have been waiting for multiple months with no answer.”
Harding sent another email: “I sent this to Jasiel on Thursday, he hasn’t bothered to reply. I’m pretty sure I’m fired… but since I’m not being paid there’s not much difference!”
Harding testified he did not hear back from Correia, but did get a call from SnoOwl attorney Nick Bernier who he said told him: “Jasiel is angry.”
On day three of testimony in the criminal trial against Correia, jurors heard from Harding as well as Bernier, who testified he began to grow concerned about the direction of the startup when a bank account for the company had only $36,000 in it, despite raising $270,000 from private investors.
Bernier testified he later resigned from the company.
“I was suspicious and concerned about ethical conflicts,” he said.
Prosecutors claim instead of spending the money on SnoOwl, Correia allegedly spent investors’ money on a lavish lifestyle for himself and his girlfriend, buying a Mercedes and designer clothes, going on trips, and even taking a helicopter tour of the Newport mansions.
Correia, the former mayor of Fall River, is facing numerous fraud charges related to allegedly stealing the investors’ money — just some of the allegations in the vast corruption trial currently underway in federal court in Boston.
The former mayor is also accused of extorting marijuana vendors for bribes in exchange for his mayoral signature on letters to allow them to open cannabis shops in the city. He faces 24 criminal counts in all. He has pleaded not guilty.
Also on Wednesday, Dr. Stafford Sheehan took the stand. Sheehan is the nephew of Dr. David Cabeceiras — the largest investor in SnoOwl giving $145,000 to Correia — and was considering taking over as the company’s CEO when Correia became mayor of Fall River.
But after examining the books, Sheehan testified they found that not all of his uncle’s investments were reflected in the company’s books. In an email to Correia demanding more information Sheehan wrote “I need to apologize if this message comes across as harsh.”
“Right now, neither Nick [Bernier] nor I know where a substantial amount of investor money collected by SnoOwl has gone,” Sheehan wrote in the April 2016 email. “This is at best a horrible mistake, and at worst can be regarded as criminal if the funding gaps are not solved.”
A key problem, Sheehan said, was they found Correia co-mingled funds meant for SnoOwl with his personal account.
“While I know that you’re very busy with your mayoral duties, this is more urgent,” he wrote.
Sheehan said Correia missed deadlines set for the mayor to provide more detail on how the money was spent. Going through bank records, however, they discovered some of the checks his uncle had cut to the company had been cashed rather than deposited.
The trial has thus far focused on the SnoOwl fraud allegations. Sheehan will return to the stand Thursday morning.