A federal judge on Monday overturned eight wire fraud and tax convictions against former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II related to allegations that he swindled investors in a smartphone app he had created, saying the jury’s verdict was not supported by the evidence.
But US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock rejected Correia’s request to dismiss charges that he extorted bribes from marijuana companies vying to open dispensaries in Fall River while serving as mayor from 2014 to 2019. He refused Correia’s request for a new trial and will sentence him Tuesday on the public corruption convictions.
“There is no showing of actual innocence,” Woodlock said.
Woodlock said it’s unlikely that the dismissal of eight of the 21 convictions will have much impact on the sentence he faces under federal guidelines, but asked the probation department to provide new calculations for Tuesday’s hearing.
Prosecutors are asking that Correia, 29, spend 11 years in prison, while Correia’s lawyers are recommending three years.
In May, Correia was found guilty of demanding bribes, ranging from $25,000 to $250,000, from four businessmen who needed his consent to open marijuana dispensaries in Fall River and stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors in SnoOwl, a smartphone app he helped create in 2013 while attending Providence College.
A jury convicted him of nine counts of wire fraud, four counts of filing false tax returns, four counts of extortion conspiracy, and four counts of extortion.
But attorneys William Fick and Daniel Marx, whom Correia hired after his conviction, argued that prosecutors had failed to prove the wire fraud charges because there was insufficient evidence that checks tied to the scheme were processed out-of-state, as federal law requires.
Assistant US Attorneys Zachary Hafer and David Tobin said there was ample evidence that the charges met the federal requirements, including a stipulation between prosecutors and Correia’s trial lawyer “that the interstate commerce element of the offense charged has been established and is not in dispute.”
Woodlock sided with the defense lawyers, but allowed three wire fraud convictions related to SnoOwl to stand because they involved e-mails that Correia sent to two investors with his business plan and agreements.
Woodlock also found that prosecutors failed to prove that Correia knowingly filed false tax returns for 2013 and 2014 by failing to disclose income from SnoOwl. He said he is considering a defense request to drop two additional tax convictions.
Correia, a Democrat, gained national attention when he was elected mayor at 24. He arrived at the courthouse Monday with his wife, parents, sister, and uncle.
“The betrayal of people who considered him like family, the pervasive lying, cheating, stealing, and blame-shifting, and the egregious breaches of the public trust must be met with a sentence that thoroughly repudiates the defendant’s abhorrent conduct and deters both this defendant and others like him from doing it again,” prosecutors wrote in a sentencing memorandum to the court.
Correia’s lawyers wrote that the former mayor “cannot be defined solely as a crooked politician or ‘thief,’ and is also a devoted grandson, son, brother, cousin, friend, and husband.“
They described Correia as “a striving and precocious child of immigrants,” whose “accomplishments as mayor conferred broad benefits on constituents and the city itself. None of this remotely excuses the offense conduct, but it provides critical context. Still, in his twenties, Mr. Correia has great potential to learn from this chapter of his life, make amends, fulfill his financial obligations, and contribute constructively to his family and community in the years ahead.”
In addition to 11 years in prison, prosecutors are also seeking two years of supervised release, more than $20,000 in restitution to the IRS, $566,740 in forfeiture, and close to $300,000 in restitution to five investors who lost money they put into SnoOwl.
Prosecutors said Correia has shown no remorse for his crimes, noting that Correia maintained his innocence after his conviction, telling reporters that “Unfortunately, the criminal justice system failed us today, but our fight is not over.”
“Eventually the real truth will come out,” he said.
Correia, who did not testify at his trial, insisted at the time “there was no overwhelming evidence” of his guilt and that he would appeal based on some of the judge’s instructions to the jury.
“And we’ll be vindicated and my future will be very long and great,” he said.
Recreational marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts in 2016, creating fierce competition for licenses to open dispensaries. The state required applicants to obtain a letter of “non-opposition” from the head of local government, verifying their proposed dispensaries complied with zoning laws. In Fall River, that meant Correia.
During the trial, jurors heard from 33 witnesses who recalled clandestine meetings, middlemen who delivered payoffs while taking cuts for themselves, and a young political star who used stolen money to bankroll a lavish lifestyle while paying off student loans and credit card debt.
In closing arguments, Hafer told jurors that Correia used money he extorted from marijuana entrepreneurs or swindled from investors to bankroll a lifestyle that included extensive travel, frequent stays at expensive hotels, and extravagant purchases, including Rolexes bought with cash, down payments on Mercedes, $700 Christian Louboutin high heels for his girlfriend, sex toys, and $300 bottles of cologne for himself.
Correia’s lawyer, Kevin Reddington, portrayed him as a hardworking, creative entrepreneur who believed he had earned the money he spent from SnoOwl.
During the trial, Fall River businessman Charles Saliby testified that in July 2018 he placed a $75,000 cash bribe directly into Correia’s hands as they sat in the mayor’s city-issued SUV outside the Saliby family’s store, Guimond Farms. Correia then handed him a letter verifying that the city didn’t oppose his plan to open a retail marijuana dispensary next to the store, Saliby testified.
Saliby said Correia initially demanded a $250,000 payment, but ultimately agreed to $150,000 to be paid in two installments.
Three other businessmen vying for dispensaries testified they negotiated to pay bribes to Correia through middlemen who were close to the mayor. Correia later met them at City Hall, restaurants, and a cigar bar where he referred to the bribes in code while seeking assurances that they were “all good,” they said.
John R. Ellement and Travis Andersen of the Globe staff contributed to this report.