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‘Our city was for sale’: Fall River officials react after former mayor Jasiel Correia found guilty of extortion, fraud

Former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II left the courthouse Friday after being convicted on multiple counts.
Former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II left the courthouse Friday after being convicted on multiple counts.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

After former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II was found guilty on a litany of corruption charges in federal court Friday, city officials and business leaders expressed disdain for his actions but confidence that the community will rebound from the embarrassment of his crimes.

Correia, a two-term mayor, was convicted of using the power of his office to extort bribes and commit fraud for personal financial gain, in part by shaking down marijuana companies hoping to do business in Fall River.

“Under the former mayor, our city was for sale,” City Council President Cliff Ponte said Friday evening. “This isn’t and hasn’t been the case since he stepped down, and I hope it never happens again.”

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After a two-week trial, a jury found Correia guilty Friday of extortion, fraud, and filing false tax returns after 23 hours of deliberations over four days. The verdict marked a stunning fall for Correia, who was elected at age 23 in 2015 on a promise to reinvigorate the struggling mill city in Southeastern Massachusetts.

As he left US District Court in Boston on Friday, Correia, now 29, who did not testify, told reporters he will appeal, claiming “there was no overwhelming evidence” against him. Sentencing is scheduled for September.

The city’s current mayor said the allegations of corruption and the trial have been challenging.

“It was a very dark time,” Mayor Paul Coogan said in a phone interview Friday. “It was unsettling in the whole city, and I’m glad it’s behind us.”

Correia was also convicted of defrauding investors in a smartphone app called “SnoOwl” that he helped create.

Prosecutors said he used the money to fund a lavish lifestyle while paying off credit card bills and student loans.

Fall River, a proud immigrant city, feels let down by a native son, some residents and business leaders said.

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Attracting jobs and new development is always challenging for the former textile center. In March, the city of nearly 90,000 people had an 11 percent unemployment rate, compared to the statewide average of 6.6 percent that month, state data show.

Business leaders said the Correia scandal unfairly cast a cloud over the city.

“The thing that concerns me is it’s so easy to use this situation as a means to ignore or overlook the assets of Southeastern Massachusetts, and particularly Fall River,” said Robert Mellion, former president and chief executive of the Bristol County Chamber of Commerce. “It’s a great community, the people are wonderful, and they will bend over backwards to help each other.”

Mellion, now the executive director and general counsel for the Massachusetts Package Stores Association, said Coogan is moving the city in a better direction.

“He’s more of a worker, and that type of leadership is attractive to business. Through sound leadership and good governance and a message that says there will be no corruption in our community, that’s what businesses want.”

Mike O’Sullivan, CEO of One SouthCoast Chamber, said he is confident the city’s reputation will recover.

“What’s more important is the way the community has responded with a new mayor, that has helped our reputation a lot,” O’Sullivan said. “A lot of the things I’m involved with on a daily basis, people around the state and at the federal level say Fall River is making progress and has come a long way.”

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City Councilor Linda Pereira expressed sympathy for Correia’s family but said the court reached the right verdict.

“I feel bad for the mother and his grandmother because I am a mother and a grandmother, and I can’t imagine the pain and devastation because I would not want my child involved in such a situation,” said Pereira, who lost the 2017 mayoral race to Correia in his reelection bid. “I pray for them during this difficult ordeal, but I believe in the judicial system and I am satisfied with the court’s rulings. We have to go by what the law says.”

Coogan shared a similar sentiment.

“I feel for the family,” he said. “He is a young man and I hope he can straighten his life out, but he had a very rough day.”

Correia is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 20. The court ordered him to wear a GPS device while he is free on bail.

Now with the trial behind them, city officials say better days are ahead for the community.

“Our residents and taxpayers don’t deserve this cynicism and negativity but our future remains bright and we will get past this as a community,” Ponte said.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @NickStoico.