Embattled Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, already accused of stealing investor funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle, was arrested Friday on charges including conspiring to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana companies.
Correia, 27, is also accused of extorting a building owner for cash and a Rolex watch in exchange for activating the water supply in his building. Additionally, he demanded kickbacks from his own chief of staff, U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said at a news conference Friday morning.
Correia's chief of staff has been arrested on similar charges, according to Lelling's office. Two others are also charged in the case.
"In short, despite Mayor Correia's public assurance to the city of Fall River, based on today's indictment, he has essentially run that town as a pay-to-play institution," Lelling said.
Correia is charged with bribery, extortion conspiracy, extortion and aiding and abetting, wire fraud and filing false tax returns. He appeared in federal court in Boston in handcuffs Friday afternoon, pleading not guilty to the charges.
He was released after a judge ordered him to post $25,000 of a $250,000 bond. His travel was restricted to Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
The Correia made a brief statement outside the courthouse but did not answer questions from the media if he would step down.
"I'm not guilty of these charges. I've done nothing but good for the city of Fall River — me and my staff and my team and I'm going to continue to do great things for the city and that's all I have to say today," Correia said outside of court.
The new charges come nearly a year after Correia was arrested and charged with stealing some $200,000 in investor funds intended for his app company.
It also comes as Correia seeks re-election.
According to Lelling's office, Correia agreed to issue non-opposition letters to marijuana vendors — the notes are required in order to operate in Massachusetts — in return for cash bribes and other payments. The bribes allegedly ranged from approximately $100,000 to $250,000 in cash, campaign contributions and mortgage discharges.
Correia has issued at least 14 non-opposition letters for marijuana businesses to operate in Fall River, including two for his girlfriend’s brother, according to the indictment.
Genoveva Andrade and Correia allegedly met with marijuana vendors and discussed signing non-opposition letters in return for cash.
Correia also allegedly accepted benefits, including cash and a Rolex watch, from a building owner in exchange for ordering Fall River employees to approve and pay for permits and excavating work and to activate a water line at a commercial property.
Moreover, the indictment accuses Correia of demanding that Andrade, his chief of staff, give him about half of her $78,780 annual salary in exchange for allowing her to keep her job.
Andrade allegedly told a businessperson, "you want to hear something even more [explative] up … I have to give [Correia] half of my salary," according to Lelling's office.
Correia's lawyer, Kevin Reddington, said the timing of the indictment "read like a bad John Grisholm novel" and was troubling given that the Fall River election was about 10 days away.
"Here's a man who has been campaigning, working 23 hours a day for the city, doing a damn good job for the city. The city of Fall River has never been in better shape. Now's he's 10 days away from an election and he's indicted," Reddington said, adding that they looked forward to trying the case.
Last October, Correia pleaded not guilty to wire and tax fraud charges and has maintained his innocence. The trial for those charges was previously set for Feb. 2020.
Correia remained mayor despite the first set of charges, refusing to resign. While voters recalled him this March, he was re-elected on the same night.
Voters were given a two-part ballot, in which they were first asked whether Correia should be recalled and then were asked who among five candidates should become mayor. Correia was recalled, and the received the most votes on the second question.