Former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II was sentenced to six years in federal prison Tuesday for extorting bribes from marijuana companies vying to open dispensaries in the city and defrauding investors in a smartphone app he helped create, crimes the judge denounced as a throwback to “old-style” corruption.
“This crime committed in this way is as crude as anything imaginable,” said US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock, describing how Correia used his political position to arrange payoffs through intermediaries and backroom deals. “City Hall was for sale.”
Correia, 29, who was wearing a mask in the Boston courtroom due to pandemic protocols, showed no visible emotion and declined to speak when Woodlock, asked him if he had anything to say, saying his lawyers had advised against it.
The sentence capped a remarkable fall for Correia, whose meteoric rise to become mayor at 24 descended into greed and corruption that Woodlock likened to notorious Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Known as the “Rascal King,” Curley was sentenced to 6 to 18 months in prison for mail fraud in the 1940s while serving as mayor and was pardoned by President Harry Truman after he spent five months behind bars.
After illegally taking a civil service exam for a constituent, Curley campaigned on the slogan, “I did it for a friend.” For Correia, an appropriate slogan would be “I did it to a friend,” Woodlock said.
Woodlock said Correia got away with swindling friends who invested in SnoOwl, a smartphone app he helped create while in college, then used his position as mayor from 2016 to 2019 to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen who needed his approval to open marijuana dispensaries in Fall River.
“What I have before me is an absolute lack of remorse,” said Woodlock, who suggested that Correia has a narcissistic personality that sent him on an upward trajectory but at the same time proved to be his downfall. He likened it to the myth of Icarus, who died by plunging to the earth after ignoring his father’s warnings not to fly too close to the sun.
Woodlock allowed Correia to remain free on bail and report to prison once he is told where he will serve his sentence. He said he was not inclined to stay his sentence but told lawyers he would consider arguments on that issue. Correia’s lawyers say they will appeal his convictions.
Prosecutors had urged Woodlock to impose an 11-year prison term, while Correia’s lawyers recommended three years.
William Fick, a lawyer who represents Correia, told the judge there was “no sugarcoating” the crimes Correia committed, but urged leniency.
“Mr. Correia generally did a lot of real good for Fall River, driven by an interest in public service,” Fick said. “Understand how someone might get derailed but has hope to contribute in a future chapter of life, in which hopefully there will be many.”
Assistant US Attorney Zachary Hafer said the shamelessness of Correia’s shakedowns amounted to an “old-school corruption” scheme. Payoffs were delivered to him during meetings in his city-issued car and tucked in an envelope hidden in a backyard shed, Hafer said.
“Fall River under Jasiel Correia was like Atlantic City during Prohibition in terms of the crudeness of the corruption,” Hafer said.
It was “the height of chutzpah” that Correia began extorting marijuana companies at a time when he knew he was under federal investigation for stealing from investors in SnoOwl, Hafer said.
The sentence came one day after Woodlock overturned eight wire fraud and tax convictions related to allegations that Correia swindled the app investors, saying the jury’s verdict was not supported by the evidence. He allowed 13 convictions to stand, including three counts of wire fraud, two counts of filing false tax returns, and four counts of both extortion and extortion conspiracy.
On Tuesday, Woodlock said he had dismissed six wire fraud convictions because he didn’t believe prosecutors had proved the checks were processed out-of-state, a requirement for those charges to be prosecuted federally. However, he said he believed Correia had committed fraud that could have been prosecuted by state authorities on those counts.
During the trial, jurors heard evidence that Correia used money he extorted or swindled 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, and $300 bottles of cologne for himself.
Woodlock said there was “a trajectory” to how Correia stole from investors, including some who were friends and treated him like a son. He described it as the “fake it until you make it” phase of Correia’s life.
But after he was elected mayor and earned $118,000 a year, Correia’s greed continued.
Prosecutors said Woodlock can order Correia to pay restitution to all of the SnoOwl investors he harmed, even those who were victims in the dismissed wire fraud convictions. Woodlock said he will order Correia to pay restitution but has yet to determine how much or to whom.
Woodlock said he believed six years was an appropriate sentence.
“I don’t want to take away the potential for the defendant to see a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “I do want to make sure he pays back the ill-gotten gains to the degree that he can” and moves on with his life.
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