The young mayor of a Massachusetts town is in big trouble after federal agents announced on Friday that they were bringing charges of bribery, extortion, wire fraud, and filing false tax returns against him in connection with gouging marijuana entrepreneurs looking to open businesses in his town. The crazy thing? Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II of Fall River, Massachusetts has already faced federal charges while in office.
“In many ways, it’s a perfect storm of corruption: the combination of a highly competitive industry and a mayor who was solely responsible for approving all non-opposition letters in the city,” said FBI agent Joseph R. Bonavolonta in a statement.
The marijuana vendors in question went unidentified. Correia entered a not-guilty plea in the case, which has been brought by Massachusetts’ United States Attorney’s office, and had to pay a $250,000 bond to go free. The charges stem from cash bribes he allegedly took from marijuana businesses looking for non-opposition letters from the city government, documents that are required for companies seeking a license in Massachusetts and can be tricky to obtain.
The US Attorney says that Correia took massive bribes from the cannabis companies — from $100,000 to $250,000, sums that included campaign donations, mortgage discharges, and even marijuana. The charges state that the mayor received marijuana that was destined to be resold.
In total, Correia gave out 14 non-opposition letters for cannabis firms. Though Fall River’s City Council voted to limit the number of companies that could receive the letters last year, the mayor vetoed the proposal.
But this hasn’t been the only instance in which Correia has been accused of misdeeds. He has already been charged with wire and tax fraud in relationship with an app development company called SnoOwl. It was alleged that he had used about 64 percent of the company investors’ money “to fund his own lavish lifestyle.”
Though the City Council asked for his resignation, he refused, and a recall election this spring was unsuccessful when Correia ended up getting the most votes out of the five candidates on the ballot — even though 61 percent of the town’s residents voted for him to leave office. The election was so bizarre that a New York Times columnist seized on the events in Fall River to explain how the British could have wound up voting for Brexit.
Potential bribe collection from the marijuana industry was not the only red flag among the charges filed on Friday against Correia. The indictment says that he also forced his own former chief of staff to turn over $22,800 of her $78,780 salary — just for having given her the job in the first place. That former employee, Genoveva Andrade, is also being charged for her alleged involvement in the marijuana business bribing situation.
In yet another unsavory situation, the mayor accepted a $12,000 Rolex and cash payment in exchange for permit approval and excavating help in the installation of a sprinkler system on a commercial building on private property.
Correia is the youngest mayor the town has ever had, and was 24 when he was elected in January, 2016.