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A federal jury Friday found former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II guilty of extorting prospective marijuana business owners, filing false tax returns, and committing wire fraud when he stole from investors of SnoOwl, an app he founded, to fund a lavish lifestyle.
The verdict, delivered just after noon at the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse in Boston, followed three full days of deliberations over the two dozen charges against the 29-year-old, once considered a Democratic political wunderkind of his mill-city hometown.
Of those charges, Correia was found not guilty on only three counts, for extortion conspiracy, extortion, and bribery.
“Today’s jury verdict in the case against former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia is a fitting end to this saga,” acting U.S. Attorney Nathaniel Mendell said at a press conference. “Correia made a lot of promises — a lot of bold statements — in business, in politics, and in government. The jury found today in its verdict, the truth: He defrauded investors, lied on his taxes, and extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes as mayor of Fall River.”
Defense attorney Kevin Reddington told reporters outside the courthouse that Correia, who has maintained he is innocent, intends to file a “vigorous appeal.”
“Jasiel has been nothing but a gentleman, very stoic, strong family support throughout,” Reddington said, when asked about how Correia took the verdict. “He’s been very, very proactive in his defense. Needless to say he’s — I don’t even want to say disappointed — I think he’s somewhat stunned.”
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock released Correia, noting that Correia had so far complied with court orders, and set conditions that he wear an ankle bracelet monitoring device. He set Correia’s sentencing hearing for Sept. 20 at 11 a.m.
He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, according to prosecutors.
Jurors heard from 36 witnesses over nine days, the vast majority of them called by prosecutors who said Correia defrauded the investors of his app of $230,000 and extorted $600,000 in bribes from marijuana vendors seeking to open dispensaries in Fall River.
Correia spent investors’ money on a Mercedes, a personal trainer, luxury hotel stays, and expensive gifts for his then-girlfriend, including a $1,070 Tiffany necklace and a $457 Valentine’s Day cruise on the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., prosecutors said.
An expert witness from the IRS called to testify said Correia spent approximately 64 percent of the $358,000 investors handed him to get his mobile app off the ground on personal expenses.
In total, Correia was convicted on nine counts of wire fraud stemming from his spending spree, as well as four counts of filing false tax returns, which prosecutors said he did once he learned he was being investigated for his handling of SnoOwl money.
“He promoted himself as a successful app developer — not quite,” Mendell said. “As the jury found today, the truth is that he went to people who trusted him, who believed in him, and he took their investments for an app, but he used the money, mostly for himself: for romantic getaways, for casinos, cars, adult entertainment, sex toys — appalling. He even used some of the money to fund his mayoral campaign in Fall River.
“And in politics and government, he promoted himself as the man with honest answers for Fall River,” Mendell continued. “But in the end, he sold his office.”
During closing arguments on Monday, Assistant Attorney General Zack Hafer told jurors Correia ran an “old school, pay-to-play” corruption scheme, in which he shook down marijuana vendors for cash in exchange for a coveted non-opposition letter, a document from Correia’s office critical for opening their businesses in the city.
Reddington, however, had urged the jury to scrutinize testimony offered by marijuana vendors, who spoke in court with immunity from prosecution, and co-conspirators who had already pleaded guilty in exchange for leniency from the government, according to The Boston Globe.
He suggested Correia’s personal spending of his business funds was a youthful mistake.
“The government acts like he has a law degree on top of a tax degree,” Reddington said. “He doesn’t.”
Correia was found not guilty on two counts — extortion and extortion conspiracy — related to allegations he was given cash and a Rolex watch by Fall River landlord and friend Antonio Costa, in exchange for having city employees approve and pay for permits and excavating work needed to activate a water line at one of Costa’s commercial properties.
Costa, a co-conspirator who was also a middleman in bribes between Correia and marijuana vendors, accepted a plea agreement before Correia’s trial.
Additionally, jurors opted not to convict Correia on one count of bribery pertaining to an allegation that he required his chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade, to kick back half of her yearly salary in exchange for giving her the job.
Andrade pleaded guilty in December for her involvement in the extortion schemes.
Asked Friday why Andrade was not called to testify, Mendell said prosecutors believed “that wouldn’t have been in the best interest of the case.”
“We’re happy with the verdict that was rendered,” he said, when asked if prosecutors felt differently given Correia was not convicted on that count. “There’s always second guessing to be done, but we’re happy with how we tried the case. I believe we did it the right way.”
As he left the courthouse, Correia double-downed on his insistence that he is innocent and vowed to bring the case to the appeals court.
“Unfortunately the justice system failed us today,” Correia told reporters. “Our fight is not over.”
He added, “We’re not done. This is not a great day, but I’ve had other not great days and everybody here knows that. … We’re going to have a great day of vindication and eventually the real truth will come out.”
Correia also asserted that there were “no facts that were brought forward, there was no overwhelming evidence.”
“Unfortunately, there were a couple things that didn’t go our way that were technical today, and that’s what will be our grounds for appeal, and we’ll win that appeal and I will be vindicated,” Correia said. “And my future will be very long and great.”
Elaborating on his client’s “stunned” response to the verdict, Reddington pointed to, for example, how the defense showed one $6,000 investor check to SnoOwl was deposited the day after it was received, and was then used for business expenses.
“I don’t know how they can find them guilty of stealing that $6,000,” Reddington said. “But, you know, they obviously did. We respect the jury’s verdict, but that’s what we have appeals courts for.”
Correia said he was offered a plea deal at one point, but declined it because he is not guilty.
Mendell declined to comment on whether prosecutors offered the deal.
The COVID-19 pandemic necessitated different court procedures during the trial. Plexiglass barriers were installed in the courtroom and attendance in the room was capped at 26 people, with a livestream available online. Those in attendance were required to wear masks and facial coverings.
Correia said Friday afternoon that the grounds for his appeal may involve the unique conditions imposed.
Reddington, however, said the trial seemed to go “without a hitch,” despite expressing that he felt the conditions were somewhat restrictive for how he would usually do his job.
“Other than the stupid masks and the plexiglass, I think it went off quite well,” he said. “But that’s an issue that a lot of courts all over the country are considering.”
Mendell said the case was a “model for how to conduct a fair criminal trial under extremely difficult circumstances, in this case, the pandemic.”
“The court went to great lengths to ensure the comfort and the safety of every participant, but also to protect the rights of all the litigants,” he said. “We’re confident in that.”
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