FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia’s lawyer said Tuesday he may ask the courts to split up the federal criminal case against him into two separate trials.
The mayor’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, said the decision will depend on “how much discovery” the government hands over in connection with the new charges announced Friday.
Correia is currently scheduled to go on trial in February, but that date was set prior to last week’s superseding indictment, which added 11 additional counts against him including extortion and bribery. He now faces 24 counts.
“It’s too early in the game to know at this point,” Reddington told Target 12. “I have to wait for first disclosure of discovery to determine if it is one trial or two separate trials.”
Reddington said he expects to receive the evidence from prosecutors next week.
Asked Tuesday for an update on the timing of Correia’s trial, a spokesperson for Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said it “is still currently scheduled for February.”
Correia has repeatedly refused to resign and is actively campaigning to win another term ahead of next Tuesday’s preliminary mayoral election, where he faces two opponents, Paul Coogan and Erica Scott-Pacheco. The winner will move onto the Nov. 5 general election. Meanwhile, the City Council may vote Tuesday night on whether to temporarily remove Correia as mayor.
Roger Williams University School of Law Professor Andrew Horwitz, who directs the school’s Criminal Defense Clinic, said he would expect the government to oppose a motion to sever by Correia’s defense team because it would make the process inefficient.
“Often prosecutors want to put multiple charges into one trial, and usually the argument for doing that is judicial economy and efficiency,” Horwitz said. “Sometimes you have the same witnesses, and this way you can just call them once.”
But, he said, defense attorneys sometimes ask for charges to be separated so they can defend their client on those charges individually.
“From a defendant’s point of view it’s really prejudicial to have a jury hear about unrelated criminal allegations, because the more bad information they hear about the defendant the more inclined they are to convict,” Horwitz said. “Normally in a criminal trial we don’t allow a jury to hear all of the bad things they have done.”
Sometimes a case will be broken up into two different trials if the defendant wants to testify on their own behave for some of the charges but not others, Horwitz added. “That is a strong argument that favors severance,” he said.
In a phone call on Tuesday, Reddington repeated the pledge he made outside federal court in Boston on Friday, that the case will go to trial and a plea deal is not on the table.
Last fall, Correia was indicted on federal fraud charges connected to his now-defunct startup SnoOwl, accused of bilking investors of $230,000.
The additional charges filed Friday against the 27-year-old accuse him of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana vendors looking to open up shop in Fall River. He has pleaded not guilty. Three local lawmakers are asking state regulators to halt the issuing of pot licenses in the city due to the bribery allegations.
Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause Massachusetts, said it is “unusual” that Correia has refused to step down despite facing such serious charges.
“But the activity is also unusual, and it shows a very clear disregard almost for reality,” Wilmot said. “You can’t do that kind of activity and not get caught. So there are some questions about rationality here. Resigning would certainly be the rational thing to do, but he’s not acting rationally.”
Under Massachusetts state law, an individual convicted of bribery at the state level cannot hold public office. But Correia is being prosecuted at the federal level, “so unless they bring state charges too, he can run again if convicted,” Wilmot said.
“But,” she added, “I’d be surprised if he would get traction.”
Fall River City Council President Cliff Ponte declined an interview request Tuesday afternoon to discuss whether the city charter had any provision barring convicts from holding office.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook