A 27-year-old mayor of a Massachusetts town has been formally charged for extorting cannabis businesses. Jasiel F. Correia II, the mayor of Fall River, Mass. was charged last week with a number of crimes, including “bribery; extortion conspiracy; extortion and aiding and abetting; wire fraud; and filing false tax returns,” according to federal prosecutors.

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Among his alleged crimes, Correia reportedly took bribes of more than $100,000 dollars from marijuana vendors after he and his staff forced them to pay in order to get a permit for the business. Correia and four others, including his former chief of staff, were charged in the indictment in a series of crimes and are expected to appear in court sometime this month.

This isn’t Correia’s first run-in with the law or scandal while he has been in office, as he was ousted on suspicion of tax fraud and evasion last year in a recall election. However, he ended up getting the most amount of votes in that election, leading him to be elected this March.

FBI spokesperson Special Agent Joseph R. Bonavolonta released a statement after Correia’s arrest, saying “Our three-year investigation has brought to light certain revelations regarding the marijuana industry in Fall River, including the calculated use of middlemen and bribe payments associated with backroom deals for those seeking the green light to open up their own stores… 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."

Who is Jasiel Correia?

Boston iStock / Sean Pavone
Correia made headlines in 2016 when he was elected at 24-years-old to the mayor of Fall River, a town of about 90,000 people, just 50 miles south of Boston. The youngest mayor in the town’s history, he was elected with the main promise of revitalizing the town’s economic development. Once a healthy textile industry, the town has declined in recent decades.

In October 2018, he was charged by federal prosecutors for wire fraud and falsifying tax documents which prosecutors say was part of a scheme to defraud an app development company to “to fund his own lavish lifestyle.” The charges, which are still pending, alleged that Correia took more than $231,000, which is about 64 percent of investors’ money originally given to him, for things such as a 2011 Mercedes.

After the charges were announced, the Fall River city council asked him to resign, which he declined, setting in motion a recall election. The election, which took place March 2019, had five candidates on the ballot, including the embattled Correia, and saw him take 35 percent of the vote, which was a plurality and enough to get him back in office. Previously a city council member, Correia, a Democrat, has been part of the Fall River city government since 2014.

What did Correia do?

Law concept - Open law book with a wooden judges gavel on table in a courtroom or law enforcement office on the wooden background. Copy space for text iStock / Svitlana Unuchko
According to federal prosecutors, Correia and some of his staff tried to scheme marijuana vendors into paying them unofficially in order for them to be granted the right to practice business. In Massachusett, cannabis businesses are required to obtain a non-opposition letter, which is required by state law, in order to operate in the state.

In Fall River, those letters were given out entirely by Mayor Correia’s office, which allowed him and his staff to begin extorting local businesses for cash bribes, and in some cases actual marijuana, if they wanted to get approval to operate. Out of the 14 letters he signed, two of them were given to his girlfriend’s brother.  “In so doing, Correia publicly stated that ‘Nobody’s getting a special deal, a special anything,” the indictment said. The bribes ranged from $100,000 to $250,000 in cash, campaign contributions and mortgage discharges, and marijuana to be resold. Officials state that he used a city vehicle to not only meet up with people for these deals, but at one time collected over $100,000 dollars in cash from a middleman while on the job.

His former chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade, was also charged in the criminal complaint with extortion conspiracy, extortion, theft and bribery as well as false statements. She alleges that Correia also forced her to turn over half of salary if she wanted to work with him. Prosecutors found that she gave over $22,800 dollars from her paycheck and an additional amount from a $10,000 dollar stipend to Correia during their time working together. According to prosecutors, she allegedly told one vendor that “you want to hear something even more f***ed up … I have to give [Correia] half of my salary.”

The scheme, which dates back to nearly three years ago, saw some businesses giving over $250,000 dollars in bribes to the mayor in order for a non-opposition letter. Prosecutors stated that most of the bribes were from $100,000 to $250,000 dollars. Correia also reportedly received a Rolex watch valued at around $12,000 dollars and helped one of the middlemen in his scheme to get city permits to work on water pipes.

Early in August, the Fall River city council passed an ordinance limiting the amount of vendors that can sell marijuana in the city, which Correia vetoed because he said it would eliminate competition.

Federal prosecutors have been investigating the case for nearly three years. He and his co-conspirators are expected to appear in court sometime this September.