In the summer of 2016, the owner of a marijuana company was golfing with two friends of Jasiel F. Correia II when he complained that he had struggled to open a dispensary in Fall River. What did he need to do to win approval? he asked.
As testimony in Correia’s public corruption trial entered its second week, David Brayton told jurors he received his answer days later when one of the friends, Antonio Costa, told him that Correia, then Fall River’s mayor, wanted a $250,000 bribe in exchange for a non-opposition letter, a document required for state approval.
Brayton, 36, who had started his company, Xiphias Wellness, with inheritance money from his late father, said he told Costa, “I don’t have that kind of money.” Instead, he offered to pay $100,000 up front and another $150,000 after the business was operational and became “cash positive,” he testified in federal court in Boston on Monday.
A short time later, Costa told him that he had spoken to Correia about the offer and the mayor agreed “that would work,” according to Brayton.
Correia, 29, a Democrat, is accused of extorting $600,000 from marijuana vendors while he was mayor from 2016 to 2019. He is also accused of stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who invested in SnoOwl, a smartphone app he helped create in 2013 while he was attending Providence College.
Brayton said that on July 14, 2016, he delivered a check, written out to Costa, for $100,000, falsely indicating it was for “property management fees.”
That same day, Correia signed a non-opposition letter for Brayton, indicating that the city didn’t oppose the company’s planned dispensary and verifying it would be built in an area that met zoning and permitting guidelines, according to documents presented by prosecutors.
Brayton testified that he also promised to pay Costa up to 2 percent of sales, with a cap of $125,000. However, Brayton said he did not pay the remainder of the bribe to Correia or any money to Costa because his dispensary didn’t make a profit. Brayton said he later sold his shares of the marijuana company.
Brayton admitted he initially lied to investigators that he didn’t pay a bribe because he wanted to protect himself, Costa, and Correia. He said he told the truth after he was subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury and offered immunity from prosecution in exchange for truthful testimony.
Costa, 53, admitted Monday that he was involved in extorting Brayton and a second marijuana vendor but had actually “played both sides,” keeping some of the money for himself while pretending he gave it to Correia.
In the summer of 2018, Costa said, another marijuana vendor, Brian Bairos, asked him if he could help him win Correia’s approval for a dispensary. Costa said he told Bairos it would cost $250,000.
After Bairos dropped an envelope containing $30,000 to $50,000 in cash at his home, Costa left it in the shed behind the home of Hildegar Camara, a close friend and aide to Correia, Costa testified.
But Camara came to his home, wearing gloves as he returned the envelope with the money and told him Correia “wouldn’t touch it” because he feared it was “fed money,” left by investigators, Costa said. Costa said he kept the money without telling Correia, Camara, or Bairos.
“I was playing both sides,” Costa said. He said he felt the money was owed to him because he had invested $50,000 in SnoOwl in 2014 and lost it all.
Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer asked him what he did with the money he had kept from Bairos. “I went on a cruise with nine elderly women,” Costa said.
Costa said Bairos gave him $10,000 cash and 10 pounds of marijuana, which Costa agreed to sell and give the proceeds to Correia. But Costa said he kept it all.
In his dealings with Brayton, Costa told jurors that he deposited Brayton’s $100,000 check and gave $80,000 to Correia. He kept $20,000 for himself to cover taxes, he testified.
But, during cross-examination by Correia’s atttorney, Kevin Reddington, Costa acknowledged that he had told the grand jury that he had paid Correia $70,000 and kept $30,000 for himself.
“Is this hard to remember?” Reddington asked.
Costa said he initially lied to investigators and a federal grand jury about the extortions but agreed to cooperate with prosecutors when he was told he was about to be indicted. He pleaded guilty to charges related to the scheme and agreed to testify in exchange for a recommendation of leniency.
Costa also testified that he gave Correia a Batman Rolex worth about $7,500 because Camara told him he should give Correia “something nice” because he had used his influence to have the city activate the water supply to a building Costa owned.
“That’s the way it works,” Costa testified.
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Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.