Former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II showered her with gifts, his former girlfriend testified Thursday, from $700 Christian Louboutin high heels to Tiffany jewelry and a Kate Spade handbag. He flew across the country for a day trip to celebrate the Fourth of July with her, rented a helicopter to show her Newport, R.I, and spent $949 for a night at the Willard InterContinental in Washington, D.C.
On the fourth day of testimony in Correia’s federal corruption trial, Natalie Cleveland, 25, told jurors she assumed Correia could afford the finer things because he had told her that an app he helped develop as a college student had sold for “a few million.”
But prosecutors allege that the travel, entertainment, and extravagant gifts were bankrolled with money stolen from people who invested in SnoOwl, a smartphone app he and two friends formed in 2013 while he was attending Providence College. Correia, 29, is also accused of extorting $600,000 from four marijuana vendors who were seeking to open dispensaries in the city while he was mayor from 2016 to 2019.
Cleveland testified that she and Correia met while interning in a US senator’s office in 2012. They dated from September 2013 to January 2017, and Correia frequently visited her in Washington, D.C., and her home state of Washington. He also paid for her to fly to visit him and for trips to vacation destinations, including Hawaii and Cape Cod, she said.
Appearing in court by Zoom, Cleveland reviewed a series of credit card statements and receipts presented by prosecutors and confirmed that they documented Correia’s lavish spending. The purchases included $300 for a bottle of his favorite cologne, Creed Original Santal; more than $1,800 at SuitSupply, a boutique men’s clothing store in Washington, D.C.; $1,070 for a Tiffany necklace; $457 for a Valentine’s Day cruise on the Potomac River; $1,000 in cash for pearls for his sister that he bought while he and Cleveland were touring a pearl factory on vacation in Maui.
Cleveland acknowledged that the documents show that from 2013 to 2015, Correia spent about $32,000 on travel and other items for the two of them. Much of it was for airfare and stays at expensive hotels from Cape Cod to Washington state. She said he flew to Washington to see her on the Fourth of July in 2014 “for a single-day trip.”
When Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer showed her a September 2013 receipt for a $949 charge for one night at the Willard InterContinental, Cleveland acknowledged it was for “a personal stay” and wasn’t business related. She said she didn’t believe Correia had a paying job at the time.
“At that point, he was doing a couple of different entrepreneurial ventures, so not a salary job per se,” said Cleveland, adding that he was running for Fall River City Council, working on creating a business incubator, and developing SnoOwl.
“Are any of the receipts I’m showing you today related to his business expenditures?” Hafer asked. Cleveland said they were not and that she never saw Correia conduct any business during their trips.
Several investors testified this week that Correia told them he wouldn’t draw a salary from SnoOwl until it became successful. But after the app stopped working and they lost all of their money, they learned he had spent their investments himself. Some of the investors told jurors they invested in SnoOwl because Correia told them he made a hefty profit selling another app he had helped create while in college, but they later learned that was a lie.
Correia, a Democrat, is charged with extortion conspiracy, extortion aiding and abetting, bribery, tax evasion, and lying to investigators.
Correia’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, said during opening statements that Correia was passionate about SnoOwl, had worked hard to make it a success, and never claimed that he wouldn’t draw a salary from the company.
During cross-examination Thursday, Reddington suggested that during Correia’s frequent stays at the Willard InterContinental he tried to have a hotel manager place fliers promoting SnoOwl in the lobby area. But Cleveland said she did not know about that.
Cleveland, who graduated from George Washington University and earned a master’s degree at the London School of Economics and Political Science, said Correia paid 90 percent of the time when they stayed in hotels. She chuckled when the prosecutor asked if she was a vegan, and answered, “Yes I am.”
He asked her to look at a receipt for a dinner at the Chatham Bars Inn on Cape Cod in the summer of 2014 and asked if the cheaper item, a vegetarian dish was hers. She agreed it was.
As for the $54 beef tenderloin, “that would have been Jasiel,” Cleveland said.