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‘The mayor of old-school corruption’: Jurors set to decide Correia’s fate after final arguments

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BOSTON (WPRI) — The corruption case against former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia is officially in the hands of the jury, after lengthy closing arguments and jury instructions Monday.

The 12 jurors plan to return Tuesday morning to begin their deliberations.

The prosecution and defense each made their final attempts to convince the jurors Monday morning for more than three hours combined.

In his final argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer said the government’s 33 witnesses and mountains of documents provided “overwhelming evidence” of Correia’s guilt, adding that the 24 counts of fraud, filing false tax returns, bribery, and extortion he faces were the result of “greed and hubris.”

He called Correia “the mayor of old-school corruption.”

“You listened as marijuana vendor after marijuana vendor dramatically described old school, pay-to-play political corruption where the defendant shook them down,” Hafer said. “What he wanted was money, and what he wanted was power. Money he was willing to steal, and power he was willing to sell.”

While mayor of Fall River, prosecutors claim Correia extorted bribes from prospective marijuana store owners in exchange for his signature on a non-opposition letter that was required by state law.

Four prospective owners testified to paying bribes, with one claiming to have handed Correia cash directly inside his city-owned SUV. The others said they negotiated the bribes through middlemen – Tony Costa, Hildegar Camara and David Hebert – all three of whom pleaded guilty in the case.

Correia’s defense attorney Kevin Reddington, in his own closing argument, pointed the finger at the middlemen, theorizing they were keeping the bribes for themselves and using their relationships with Correia to claim the bribes were going to the mayor in exchange for the letters.

“There were 14 letters of non-opposition,” Reddington said. “The only ones who said they were shaken down with the ones involving Costa, Camara and Hebert.”

Costa and Camara both testified for the prosecution in the case, while Hebert was not called to the stand.

As for the alleged bribe from Charles Saliby – the one that wasn’t through a middleman – Reddington dismissed it as ridiculous that Correia would roll up in his mayoral SUV and pick up a box of cash.

“The meeting never happened,” Reddington said, adding that Correia knew he was under federal investigation by that time and would not have done anything illegal.

Some of the trial focused on allegations dating back before Correia was mayor, when he launched a tech company called SnoOwl and solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment money, which prosecutors say he spent on a “lavish lifestyle.”

Hafer played for the jury a clip from a 2015 mayoral debate between Correia and then-Mayor Sam Sutter, where Correia said he would spend taxpayer dollars wisely, just as he did with his investors’ money.

The SnoOwl bank accounts were depleted by that time, Hafer said, and Correia had ripped off the investors by spending their money on strip clubs, travel, and luxury goods.

“He had no problem looking the voters in the eye and saying he spent this money wisely when he knew it wasn’t true,” Hafer said.

But Reddington said it was a matter of naiveté – not intent to defraud – that led Correia to spend the majority of the investment money on himself.

“He thought mistakenly that this was money that was his, because it was his job,” Reddington said, even though multiple witnesses testified that Correia pledged he would not take a salary from the startup company. (Correia also did not declare the income on his tax returns, according to an IRS agent who took the stand.)

The final count in the case is bribery, based on an accusation that Correia took half his chief of staff Genoveva Andrade’s salary as a kickback. Andrade has already pleaded guilty to the charge, among others, but the jury never heard testimony from her.

Instead, the evidence presented for that count include bank records showing Andrade wrote checks to Correia each time her city paycheck came in. Plus, a marijuana vendor named Christopher Harkins said he had lunch with Andrade and she told him she had to give Correia half her salary.

“How on earth could Chris Harkins come up with such a bizarre arrangement and statement if Gen Andrade hadn’t said it?” Hafer argued.

“That’s the silliest charge here,” Reddington said, claiming Andrade gave Correia the money as a loan for his legal defense. “You’ve heard from numerous witnesses that Gen Andrade was like a mother to him.”

“If that’s true, he took 22,800 from his mother,” Hafer countered.

In two hours’ worth of jury instructions Monday afternoon, Judge Douglas Woodlock told the jury not to draw any conclusions from the fact that Correia did not take the stand to defend himself. 

“The defendant doesn’t have to testify,” Woodlock said. “It is emblazoned in our Constitution. Any individual who is accused can stand and say, ‘prove it.'”

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