A federal corruption trial that has focused on payoffs orchestrated through “middlemen” or disguised as campaign contributions took a dramatic twist Wednesday as a local businessman testified that he placed a $75,000 cash bribe directly into the hands of Jasiel F. Correia II, then mayor of Fall River.
Testifying at Correia’s trial in US District Court in Boston, Charles Saliby, 39, told jurors he had worked at his family’s Fall River store for years when he arranged a City Hall meeting with Correia in June 2018 about his plan to open a retail marijuana shop next door.
Correia told him he had already allotted the maximum number of non-opposition letters, a document required for a marijuana dispensary license, Saliby said. But he said he was hopeful because Correia liked his plan and suggested he might rescind one of the letters he had already awarded to a vendor who had made little progress.
A couple of days later, Correia showed up at Guimond Farms, Saliby’s family’s store, with his chief-of staff, Genoveva Andrade, and told Saliby he would supply a non-opposition letter in exchange for a $250,000 bribe, Saliby testified. Andrade hastily excused herself to use the restroom, leaving the two men alone to negotiate, he said.
“That’s too much,” Saliby recalled telling Correia, saying he wouldn’t be turning a huge profit like other vendors who were cultivating and selling the product. His plan was to buy from other vendors and sell it in a small retail space. He said Correia asked him, “How much are you willing to pay?” and ultimately settled for $125,000.
As Correia left the building, Andrade turned to him and said, “You’re family now,” Saliby said.
“What did you think would happen if you did not pay the $125,000?” Assistant US Attorney David Tobin asked.
“I feared that the mayor would retaliate against my family and my business,” said Saliby, adding that Guimond Farms was the sole source of income for him, his parents, and his sister.
In July 2018, Correia pulled up outside Guimond Farms in his city-issued SUV to collect the first installment of the bribe and told him to get into the passenger seat, Saliby told jurors.
Saliby testified that he had taken $75,000 cash, most of it in $100 bills, from the family business’s safe, wrapped it in stacks of $10,000, and placed it inside a metal box with a clipboard on top. Saliby showed the jury how he placed the cash in the box, using a replica of the clipboard and fake money.
Inside Correia’s car, Saliby said, he handed the mayor the box of cash, which Correia put in the backseat. Correia handed him a manilla folder, with a signed letter of non-opposition that specified the dispensary would be located in an area that met zoning requirements, Saliby testified. Saliby said the mayor also gave him a host agreement that said the company would pay $25,000 annually to the city, along with a percentage of its profits.
Under state regulation, the host city could require a marijuana business to pay as much $50,000 annually, but Correia agreed to $25,000, Saliby said. In exchange, the mayor said he wanted the bribe from Saliby increased from $125,000 to $150,000, Saliby testified. But he said he didn’t pay the rest of the bribe.
During cross examination by Correia’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, Saliby confirmed that he received a provisional license from the state for his dispensary, Greener Leaf, in April 2019, but said the company was later closed because the Cannabis Control Commission “deemed me unsuitable because of my involvement with Jasiel Correia.”
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.
He is charged with extortion conspiracy, extortion aiding and abetting, bribery, tax evasion, and lying to investigators. He is also accused of forcing Andrade to give him half her city salary when she was his chief-of-staff, and a $10,000 “snow stipend” she received from the city for her work during snowstorms. He has vehemently denied the charges.
US District Judge Douglas Woodlock has limited courtroom access because of the pandemic and the trial is being viewed in an overflow courtroom and on Zoom, where nearly 400 people watched on Wednesday.
Another witness, Chris Harkins, chief executive officer of Northeast Alternatives, a medical marijuana dispensary and recreational cannabis store in Fall River, testified he had been led to believe the city would only issue non-opposition letters to five companies and complained to Correia in 2018 after learning that he had given one to Guimond Farms, located near his store. Harkins said he arranged to meet Andrade for lunch because Correia told him that she had lobbied for the other store.
During their lunch, Harkins said Andrade told him she wasn’t responsible for approving the other dispensary and that Correia “has been meeting with a lot of shady people.”
Harkins said Andrade told him, “Do you want to hear something really [expletive deleted] up? He’s taking half of my salary.”
Shelley Murphy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.