Jasiel Correia II, A Massachusetts mayor already accused of stealing investor funds to fund a lavish lifestyle was arrested Friday on charges that he conspired to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies, the FBI said.
Specific charges against Correia include: bribery, extortion conspiracy, extortion and aiding and abetting, wire fraud, and filing false tax returns. (Apart from the cannabis extortion, Correia is also accused of taking former chief of staff Genoveva Andrade’s salary as part of another scheme, according to court documents. Andrade was also charged with extortion conspiracy; extortion; theft and bribery; and false statements.)
Correia has written 14 “letters of non-opposition” for cannabis businesses seeking to operate in Fall River. In Massachusetts, that sort of local approval is needed before a business can pursue a state license. Local approval also requires a host community agreement—a form of contract in Massachusetts’ cannabis industry that allows municipal officials to work out particular financial or economic deals with business owners as part of operating within the city or town.
Correia, 27, appeared in Boston federal court Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty. His attorney, Kevin Reddington, could not be reached for comment.
The Democrat mayor also is accused of extorting $3,900 in cash and a $7,500-to-$12,000 “Batman” Rolex watch from a property owner in exchange for activating the water supply to his building. In addition, federal prosecutors say Correia demanded his chief of staff give him half of her $78,700 salary in return for appointing her and allowing her to keep her city job.
Four others, including the former chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade, also were charged with federal crimes.
According to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office, Correia’s bribes ranged from $100,000 to $250,000 in cash, campaign contributions and mortgage discharges.
“Marijuana was also exchanged for resale,” Lelling’s office writes, detailing the extortion conspiracy. “It is alleged that Andrade and Correia met with marijuana vendors and discussed signing non-opposition letters in return for cash.”
According to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, only three licenses have been approved by the state in Fall River: Northeast Alternatives Inc.’s cultivation, product manufacturing and retail licenses. The state has issued three provisional licenses for Fall River businesses: Greener Leaf, Hope Heal Health, and Nature’s Medicines, but they have not officially opened yet.
In August 2019, Fall River City Council approved an ordinance to limit the number of cannabis businesses in the city to 11 (or 20 percent of off-premise liquor licenses, if that number is larger than 11). One week after that ordinance passed, Correia vetoed the legislation.
“Without hesitation, Mayor Correia was extorting marijuana vendor after marijuana vendor,” Lelling said at a press conference. “It’s striking the lengths he went to get the money, and the seeming indifference with how overt his activities were.”
Last month, the FBI said it was investigating corruption in the legal marijuana market.
“I’m not guilty of these charges. I’ve done nothing but good for the city of Fall River.” Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia leaving federal court accused of bribing would-be pot shop owners trying to set up in his city. #wbz pic.twitter.com/E6KOnjTmbc— Christina Hager (@HagerWBZ) September 6, 2019
In a separate case, Correia is accused of stealing investor funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.
Correia pleaded not guilty last October to a 13-count indictment charging him with defrauding investors and filing false tax returns.
A trial on those federal charges is slated to begin Feb. 24.