BOSTON (WPRI) — In 2018, Charles Saliby aspired to open a marijuana retail shop called Greener Leaf in an unused area of his family-owned convenience store on Rhode Island Avenue in Fall River.
Saliby called Mayor Jasiel Correia’s office repeatedly for months, he told jurors in federal court in Boston Wednesday, but was told by chief of staff Genoveva Andrade the mayor wasn’t giving out any more letters of non-opposition — a requirement before a prospective marijuana business could apply for a license with the state Cannabis Control Commission.
But then there was a “glimmer of hope,” Saliby said. Correia and Andrade came to Guimond Farms Convenience Store and met with him in his office. They told him they’d give him the letter and a host community agreement, which was also required.
But there was one rather large catch: Correia said he would need to pay $250,000, Saliby testified.
“I was nervous, uncomfortable,” Saliby told the jury. “I knew that at that point it was a bribe.”
Saliby said he told the mayor he couldn’t afford that much, and they negotiated it down to $125,000.
When the two left the store, Saliby said Andrade looked at him and said, “You’re family now.”
Correia came back to the store at a later date to pick up a portion of the cash, Saliby said, testifying that he took $75,000 from the family safe and put it in a metal box with a clipboard attached.
The mayor pulled up in his city-issued SUV, Saliby said, and he climbed into the passenger seat.
“I handed him the metal clipboard,” Saliby said. “He gave me a manila folder with a letter of non-opposition and the host community agreement.”
He said he feared that failing to pay the bribe would cause the mayor to “retaliate” against his family and their business when it came to licenses or permits.
Saliby, who has been given immunity from prosecution in exchange for truthful testimony, was the fourth prospective marijuana vendor to testify in Correia’s criminal trial. But he’s the first to say he handed a cash bribe directly to the mayor himself, rather than through a middleman or by donating to his campaign or legal defense fund.
On cross-examination, Correia’s attorney Kevin Reddington questioned the likelihood that the sitting mayor would have gone to pick up a bribe from a convenience store, especially since at that point he had already been indicted for allegedly defrauding investors in his tech app. (The marijuana bribery extortion charges came later).
“Mr. Correia, who was under indictment by the federal government, in the newspaper just about every other day, paranoid or concerned about investigators being in City Hall, accepted $75,000 in cash from you?” Reddington asked.
In court, the prosecutor had Saliby stack phony bills into a clipboard box to show it could fit the $75,000.
Also on the stand Wednesday was Matthew Pichette, who said he was seeking to open up a micro-business that both grew marijuana and infused edibles with the product. The two entities — Loop Cultivation and Premium Chef Edibles — each needed a letter of non-opposition and host community agreement.
Pichette said his friend David Hebert had a relationship with the mayor, and brokered a $25,000 bribe, Pichette said. He would pay the bribe to Correia’s legal defense fund, he told the jury.
In a meeting with Correia, Pichette said the mayor shook his hand and asked if he spoke with Hebert. “We’re good?” Pichette recounted the mayor saying.
“What did you think?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney David Tobin.
“That Jasiel was dirty,” Pichette said.
Pichette did get the letters from the mayor, he said. The businesses never opened.
Saliby’s cannabis shop also never opened, he told the jury. The Cannabis Control Commission officially lists Greener Leaf as having a “provisional license,” but Saliby said the CCC has refused to give him the final license because he paid a bribe to Correia. (The CCC declined to comment.)
The final witness Wednesday was Christopher Harkins, the owner of Northeast Alternatives, an active marijuana dispensary and retail store in Fall River.
Unlike the other business owners, Harkins said he never paid a bribe to Correia, and he donated $20,000 to Correia’s political campaign because he supported him.
Harkins’ testimony relates to the final count in the case, where Correia is accused of requiring a kickback from Andrade, his chief of staff.
At a meeting with Andrade, Harkins said she told him: “Do you wanna hear something really [expletive] up? He’s taking half my salary.”
Andrade has pleaded guilty to extortion, bribery and making false statements. She has not testified in the trial against her former boss, and prosecutors have said they expect to rest some time on Thursday.