After being elected Mayor of Fall River Massachusetts at just 23, Jasiel Correia’s political career only seemed to improve. Correia charmed voters brightly and dynamically by portraying himself as a successful entrepreneur who was able to revive the struggling old mill town.
Prosecutors are actually saying he was a cheater and a thief.
Correia is on trial this month for stealing more than $ 230,000 from investors in a smartphone app he created to pay for things like a Mercedes, casino travel, and adult entertainment. As mayor, he is accused of convincing his chief of staff to give him half their salary to keep their job in the city and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies that want to operate there.
The trial – one of the first to be held in federal court in Boston since the coronavirus pandemic began – will reveal Correia’s dramatic rise and fall in the 89,000-person city in southeast Massachusetts, still framed by the collapse of once-booming text messaging -Industry is hurt. Prosecutors will try to show that Correia defrauded investors, just as its critics said he persuaded voters to trust him with the city.
“My husband says it best: He was able to convince the Pope that there is no God,” said Linda Pereira, a Fall River councilwoman who defeated Correia to be re-elected mayor in 2017.
Even when Correia’s former chief of staff and three others pleaded guilty to the extortion program, the now 29-year-old former mayor remained defiant. He has denied any wrongdoing, insisted that the app, which is designed to help businesses reach out to consumers, is legitimate, and accused political opponents of overthrowing him.
The question now is: will he take a stand to convince the jurors? Correia’s name is on the defense witness list, but it remains unclear whether he will actually testify.
Unlike many defendants who remain silent so as not to say anything in court that could be used against them, Correia has been open since his arrest in 2018. He led reporters through a PowerPoint presentation to refute the allegations days after the first indictment was brought, and participated in a Mark Wahlberg-produced series of documentaries about Correia’s tumultuous political career.
“If I do something wrong, come and get me. Go ahead and do it. But I didn’t do anything wrong, “Correia said in the series” Run This City “, which was broadcast last year on the now defunct streaming platform Quibi
“I am innocent until proven guilty and I will not be found guilty,” he said.
The selection of the jury is to begin on Tuesday. Correia is charged with wire fraud, extortion conspiracy and bribery, among other things.
His attorney declined to comment on The Associated Press, but previously said the prosecution “reads like a bad John Grisham novel” and that prosecutors have “no endorsement, no physical evidence, no legitimate testimony”.
After Correia became a councilor at age 22, the city’s local newspaper, The Herald News, described him as “a classic example of a well-done Fall River kid.”
Correia was at the center of a media hype in 2014 when he claimed Mayor Will Flanagan intimidated him with a gun during a nightly meeting because Correia supported a petition to recall mayors. Flanagan was never prosecuted, but was recalled and replaced by the District Attorney in an election that year. Correia is being defended in court by the same lawyer who represented Flanagan during this investigation.
In the 2015 race against Mayor Sam Sutter, Correia praised the SnoOwl app, which was used on social media to reach voters, and promised to attract young residents and rename the city under the slogan “We’ll try”. Sutter raised a few questions about Correia’s business, but regretted that he hadn’t picked up the subject during the race.
“Jasiel made the case that he was a millionaire entrepreneur when he wasn’t, and I blame myself for failing to expose that. I knew SnoOwl was broke, “Sutter said.
Authorities say that three years before Correia became mayor, he started looking for investors for his start-up. He promised not to receive a salary and has already sold another app for a big profit. Within weeks of receiving a check for $ 50,000 from an investor, prosecutors said Correia spent $ 10,000 buying a Mercedes sedan.
In the next few months, according to prosecutors, Correia used the investors’ money to pay for dating services, luxury hotels and designer clothing, to lower its student loan debt and to support his political career. Overall, prosecutors claim he spent nearly two-thirds of the more than $ 360,000 he took for himself from investors.
For months after his arrest, Correia defied calls to resign and survived a bizarre March 2019 election in which he was recalled by voters and re-elected that same night. After federal agents arrested him a second time – this time because of the extortion program – he agreed to a leave of absence in October 2019. He was ousted from the electorate the next month.
As mayor, Correia is accused of soliciting bribes from marijuana companies in exchange for city approval letters they need to obtain a license. According to authorities, Correia or employees negotiated the bribes with the owners of the businesses in places like a swanky Boston steakhouse, cigar bars and a dunkin donuts.
“They are a family now,” Correia’s chief of staff Genoveva Andrade told one of them after they agreed on the bribe during a meeting in 2018.
In another case, a middleman left an envelope containing $ 25,000 in cash from a marijuana business owner in a shed behind a Correia aide’s home, prosecutors said. Authorities say the adjutant later returned the money to the middleman and Correia feared it was “Fed money”.
Three of Correia’s associates who pleaded guilty to the extortion program are among those who could testify against him.
Meanwhile, in Fall River, many who feel hurt by the former mayor will look carefully.
“There was a local person I know personally who cried to me and told me how stupid he was that this boy cheated on him,” said Pereira, the city councilor.
“I said, ‘You know what? Don’t feel like this because he won over an entire church, ”she said.