A Rhode Island businessman testified Tuesday he was so impressed when he met Jasiel F. Correia II in July 2013 during a chance encounter at a Fall River bar that he invested $50,000 in his company, SnoOwl, which was developing a smartphone app.
At the time, Correia was a 21-year-old Providence College graduate, running for Fall River’s City Council and working the crowd at a Chamber of Commerce meeting. He was dressed in a nice suit and boasted that he was supporting himself with $250,000 that he and a friend had made selling another app they had developed in college, Stephen Miller told jurors.
Miller, a builder and real estate company owner, said he jumped at the chance to invest in Correia’s latest venture in exchange for a 5 percent stake in the company.
“I thought he was like a boy wonder,” said Miller, 55. “I thought he was the next greatest thing.”
During the second day of testimony in Correia’s corruption trial in US District Court in Boston, Miller said Correia told him he “was not going to take a dime from the company” because all of the money would go toward developing the app. Correia said his “payday” would come after the app became successful and sold for “crazy money,” Miller testified.
But four years later, when Correia was mayor of Fall River and Miller had invested another $20,000 in SnoOwl, Miller said he learned from the FBI and investigators from the Massachusetts Inspector General’s office that Correia was under scrutiny for allegedly using investors’ money to pay for trips, expensive dinners, clothing, jewelry, a personal trainer, a Mercedes, and student loans and credit card debt.
Correia, 29, faces two dozen counts of extortion conspiracy, extortion aiding and abetting, bribery, tax evasion, and lying to investigators. He is accused of stealing more than $230,000 from seven investors in SnoOwl, and extorting about $600,000 from four marijuana vendors seeking to open dispensaries in the city while he was mayor from 2016 to 2019. He is also charged with forcing his former chief of staff to give him half her salary.
Prosecutors allege that none of the investors recouped their money and SnoOwl went out of business after Correia neglected to pay the software developers who were working on it or the fees needed for its server and patents.
During cross examination Tuesday, Correia’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, asked Miller if he understood the risks and rewards of investing.
“Well it’s very risky when he steals all the money from the company,” Miller quipped, drawing a sharp rebuke from US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, who said the answer was not responsive to the question. He ordered it stricken from the record and told jurors to disregard it.
Miller agreed that Correia succeeded at getting Apple to offer SnoOwl on its app store, which was “a big thing.” But he said its success was short-lived. The app stopped working and Correia told him the company was working on updates and waiting on a second patent, Miller said.
Miller acknowledged that he never asked Correia for a detailed explanation of how he spent the money he invested, saying, “I trusted him.”
Asked if he told investigators in 2017 that Correia “could spend money on anything he wanted as long as he produced the product,” Miller said he must have misspoken because he was surprised by allegations that Correia had stolen from him and wanted to give Correia a chance to explain what happened.
“I was trying to cover for him,” Miller said. “I felt so close to him, I wanted to hear what he had to say.”
Miller acknowledged he had told investigators he was a former bartender who knew how to spot a con man. But Correia had fooled him, he testified.
Another witness, David Cabeceiras, testified Tuesday that he had invested $145,000 in SnoOwl and became concerned in 2016 when Correia’s interest waned after he was elected mayor. Cabeceiras, an orthodontist, said he enlisted his nephew, a website developer, to help him assume management of the company. During a trip to the bank, they discovered that Correia had cashed many of his checks instead of depositing them in SnoOwl’s account.
“My first emotion was kind of fear,” Cabeceiras said. “Deception was what came to mind.”
Miller and Cabeceiras said they would not have invested in SnoOwl if they knew Correia had lied about previously selling an app for a huge profit.
On Monday, Alec Mendes, 29, testified that he and Correia created a website, FindIt, during their freshman year in college and probably made “a few thousand” dollars from advertisements on the site. He said he sold his half of the website to Correia.
“I don’t think it was worth anything,” said Mendes, who told jurors that Correia never told him he sold it. The site went offline soon afterward.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.