Crime

4 takeaways from the trial of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia

Closing arguments are expected Monday.

Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia (center) arrives at federal court in Boston on April 26.

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A federal jury will hear closing arguments Monday in the trial of former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II, who faces accusations of extorting prospective marijuana business owners, taking bribes on the job, and stealing from investors of a mobile app he founded.

The end of the trial comes after the jury heard testimony from 36 witnesses across nine days, although only three testified in the 29-year-old’s defense, according to WPRI.

Correia, once a political wunderkind, faces over 20 charges, stemming from his two arrests in 2018 and 2019.

Prosecutors allege he defrauded investors of $230,000 for a mobile app he developed, filed false tax returns, extorted $600,000 in bribes from marijuana vendors seeking to open dispensaries in the city, and made his chief of staff kick back half of her salary to him.

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“This is a case about lying, cheating, stealing, and shakedowns,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Hafer told jurors in his opening statement last week, WPRI reported. “The man behind it all is seated right there.”

Kevin Reddington, Correia’s attorney, sought to show jurors Correia — who has adamantly maintained his innocence — is not guilty; he blamed lying witnesses and over eager investigators for the charges, according to The Boston Globe.

Correia’s spending of cash invested in his so-called SnoOwl app was the young entrepreneur taking a salary for himself, Reddington suggested, at one point telling jurors: “It’s his money, from his point of view.”

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And Correia made waves when he ousted the incumbent to become Fall River’s chief executive at 23 years old, six years ago.

“In politics, it can be brutal,” Reddington told jurors. “You make enemies.”

Here are a few takeaways from the trial, ahead of the closing arguments:

Correia said he sold an app before creating SnoOwl. One investor considered him ‘a boy wonder.’

During their freshman year at Providence College, Correia and Alec Mendes, 29, created a website, FindIt, according to the Globe.

Mendes told jurors the pair probably made “a few thousand dollars” from advertisements that ran on the site, but he ultimately sold his half of the site to Correia.

“I don’t think it was worth anything,” said Mendes.

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But Correia, taking on his next tech venture with SnoOwl, allegedly told prospective investors his first app sold for a hefty pricetag. (Mendes testified Correia never mentioned to him anything about selling the site.)

The alleged lie — prosecutors have called the claim “malarkey” — was part of Correia’s allure that roped in Stephen Miller, a Rhode Island businessman who met Correia at a Fall River bar in July 2013, the Globe reported.

Correia, then 21 years old, was running for Fall River’s City Council and speaking at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. He said he was living off of $250,000 he and a friend made selling an app, Miller, 55, a real estate company owner, testified.

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“I thought he was like a boy wonder,” Miller said. “I thought he was the next greatest thing.”

According to WPRI, Miller eventually invested $70,000 into SnoOwl.

Miller was asked in court if he told investigators four years ago that Correia “could spend money on anything he wanted as long as he produced the product,” the Globe reported.

He said he was surprised by the allegations against Correia and must have misspoken at the time.

“I was trying to cover for him,” Miller said. “I felt so close to him, I wanted to hear what he had to say.”

David Cabeceiras, an orthodontist in Fall River whose son was high school classmates with Correia, initially invested $50,000 and, later, a total of $145,000 after writing checks at Correia’s request, WPRI reported.

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Cabeceiras eventually learned that Correia was not cashing checks to SnoOwl’s account, he said. Correia, instead, was depositing them in his personal bank account, he testified.

“My first emotion was kind of fear,” Cabeceiras said, according to the Globe. “Deception was what came to mind.”

Cabeceiras and Miller both said they would have never forked over the cash to Correia if they had known his claims of selling his first website were lies, the newspaper reported.

Correia spent money on a Mercedes, a personal trainer, and expensive gifts for his then-girlfriend, among other purchases, witnesses said.

Natalie Cleveland, 25, Correia’s former girlfriend, testified that over the course of their relationship between 2013 and 2017, Correia bought her expensive presents: a $1,070 Tiffany necklace, a $457 Valentine’s Day cruise on the Potomac River, and $700 Christian Louboutin high heels, according to the Globe.

He rented a helicopter to fly her over Newport, Rhode Island, and put the two of them up in fancy hotels, such as the $949 night they spent at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C., Cleveland testified.

The two met while they were interns for a U.S. senator in 2012. Correia would pay for Cleveland to visit him and for vacations for the couple, including to Cape Cod and Hawaii, Cleveland testified.

In Maui on vacation, Correia dropped $1,000 for pearls for his sister as the couple toured a pearl factory, according to credit card statements and receipts presented in court.

Cleveland told jurors she assumed Correia had the cash because he had told her he sold an app he created in college for “a few million,” the Globe reported.

When the two stayed at the Willard InterContinental, Cleveland did not believe Correia had a paying job but was running for Fall River City Council, working on SnoOwl, and trying to launch a business incubator at that time, she said.

“At that point, he was doing a couple of different entrepreneurial ventures, so not a salary job per se,” she said.

During cross examination, Reddington said Correia, during his stays at the Willard InterContinental, tried to have a hotel manager place fliers about SnoOwl in the lobby, according to the Globe.

Cleveland said she was not aware of that.

IRS Special Agent Sandra Lemanski testified Correia bought a 2011 Mercedes-Benz a month after SnoOwl received its first investment of $50,000.

Correia withdrew $10,000 in cash from the business account and put it in his personal account before making the purchase, Lemanksi said, according to the Globe.

Correia said at the time he spent the money on “software development” for the app, but records show he put the cash toward the vehicle’s $12,000 down payment, Lemanski said.

Reddington offered that Correia used the car to conduct business. Lemanski said Correia, who put the car in his name, didn’t list the car as a business asset.

Lemanksi calculated that Correia spent 64 percent of the over $358,000 SnoOwl received from investors for personal expenses, including $37,282 on student loans and credit card debt, $216 in monthly payments for a fitness trainer, and a $259 Kate Spade handbag for his girlfriend that he listed as a “business expense,” she said.

Reddington suggested in cross examination that Correia’s expenses were indeed business oriented.

Lemanski said a business expense could be “if you had a meal with a potential customer and discussed them being a customer,” but rejected the notion that Correia’s trainer sessions could be business related if the gym ended up becoming a customer of the app.

A former SnoOwl software developer also testified that at one point, he and his co-workers had not been paid in months, according to WPRI.

‘Jasiel was dirty’: Marijuana vendors recalled how Correia allegedly extorted them in exchange for allowing to operate in Fall River.

Matthew Pichette wanted to open a micro-business that grew marijuana and used it to infuse edibles — a venture that would require two sets of non-opposition letters and host community agreements from the city to operate, WPRI reported.

A friend, David Hebert, knew Correia and brokered a $25,000 bribe between the two, with Pichette donating the sum to Correia, Pichette said.

Pichette shook Correia’s hand in a meeting and asked him if he had spoken with Hebert, according to WPRI.

Pichette recalled Correia asking, “We’re good?”

“What did you think?” asked Assistant U.S. Attorney David Tobin in court.

“That Jasiel was dirty,” Pichette responded.

Correia apparently received several, similar payments through “middlemen,” according to testimony.

But the mayor received at least one of the payments himself, according to one witness’s testimony.

Charles Saliby, 39, testified Wednesday Correia visited his family’s store, Guimond Farms, and told him he would grant him a non-opposition letter in exchange for $250,000, according to the Globe.

Saliby ultimately got Correia to settle for $125,000, he said.

Tobin asked Saliby what he thought would have happened if he didn’t pay Correia.

“I feared that the mayor would retaliate against my family and my business,” Saliby said.

In July 2018, Correia’s city-issued SUV stopped outside Guimond Farms and Saliby got inside and gave Correia $75,000 cash in a metal box, Saliby told jurors. Correia in turn, he said, handed him the needed paperwork.

Reddington questioned the likelihood Correia would have gone himself to the store to get the bribe since he had already been indicted on other charges related to SnoOwl at the time, according to WPRI.

“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?” he said.

Hildegar Camara, a former aide to Correia, testified a mutual friend of his and Correia’s, Tony Costa, wanted Correia to issue a non-opposition letter to Brian Bairos, who owned a marijuana cultivation business in Rhode Island, according to the Globe.

According to Camara, Correia agreed to granting the letter but later wanted a donation to his legal defense fund in return.

Camara recalled Correia visited his house and stood next to him as he called Costa and whispered over the phone, “Tell them it’s going to be $100,000.”

Camara has pleaded guilty to six charges in exchange for a recommendation of leniency, according to the Globe.

The defense called three witnesses. Correia was not one of them.

The defense team called three witnesses to testify on Thursday, before resting its case.

Sarah Hartry, deputy general counsel for the Massachusetts office of Campaign and Political Finance, testified the agency found Dina Pichette, the wife of Matthew Pichette, violated campaign finance laws by using another person’s name to donate a total of $3,000 to Correia’s mayoral campaign, according to the Globe.

Under law, individual donations are capped at $1,000.

“It was determined he [Correia] had no knowledge” of the illegal donation, Reddington said.

“That’s right,” Hartry confirmed.

Matthew Pichette attempted to hide his $25,000 bribe by having friends and relatives, including his wife, write checks to Correia’s political campaign, with him subsequently reimbursing them, he said, according to the newspaper.

His wife’s name was on joint bank accounts with their sons, so the violation came after each wrote their checks, he said.

Dina Pichette paid a $5,000 fine for the violation, and Correia apologized to her, he said.

Carla Dutra, a secretary for Fall River’s corporation counsel, testified that she mailed a non-opposition letter and a host community agreement to an attorney representing Saliby, who had told jurors he received both from Correia himself, the Globe reported.

She admitted to prosecutors, however, that she wasn’t working the day Correia signed the letter.

A third witness, Jonathan Carreiro, told jurors Correia was committed to his SnoOwl venture and approached him for assistance when the app stopped working, according to the newspaper.

Carreiro, who runs software projects, said the effort to revive the app stopped once Correia was indicted.

Also on Thursday, prosecutors called Lemanksi, the IRS special agent, back to the stand. Lemanski presented bank records that showed Correia’s chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade, wrote checks to Correia soon after she was paid by the city, giving him a total of $22,800 of the $40,324 she earned in eight months, according to the Globe.

Reddington suggested there was nothing improper about Andrade donating a portion of her salary to Correia, the newspaper reported. She didn’t attempt to hide it, Reddington highlighted.

Andrade was also charged in the investigation in 2019 and agreed in December to plead guilty to extortion and bribery charges.

Correia opted not to testify at his trial. U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock told jurors not to read into the decision.

“He doesn’t have to say anything,” Woodlock said.

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