FALL RIVER — A defiant Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II returned to City Hall Friday amid a call from Governor Charlie Baker to relinquish his post while his criminal case is pending and plans by city councilors to hold a special session to discuss the indictment.
Baker, who renounced Correia’s endorsement Thursday, released a statement Friday urging the 26-year-old Democratic mayor to hand over the reins of power following his arrest on federal fraud and tax evasion charges.
“Governor Baker and Lieutenant Governor Polito believe that in light of these serious allegations, Mayor Correia should act in the best interests of the people of Fall River and step aside until the case is resolved,” the statement from Baker/Polito campaign spokesman Terry MacCormack said. “Ultimately, it is up to residents and voters to decide who is best fit to lead the city.”
City Council President Cliff Ponte said he’s convening a special meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday to discuss the criminal case against Correia and any proposals from members “regarding the leadership of our city.”
Correia was arrested Thursday morning and charged with stealing more than $231,000 from investors in his SnoOwl tech startup. Federal prosecutors said he used the money on expensive travel, a Mercedes-Benz sedan, casinos, and adult entertainment.
He is also charged with filing fraudulent tax returns in an effort to conceal the alleged scheme. Prosecutors allege Correia stole about 64 percent of the $363,690 that SnoOwl’s seven investors contributed and spent it before being sworn in as mayor in 2016. He has pleaded not guilty to nine counts of wire fraud and four counts of filing false tax returns.
Correia, back on the job Friday morning, insisted he would not resign.
“I’m back at work and doing the people’s business,” he said as he walked out of his office and into an elevator. “I was elected to do the job, and it is my job to be the mayor, and, until such time as it isn’t my job, I’m going to continue to do the job.”
City Councilor Leo Pelletier said Correia should step aside, citing allegations that he spent ill-gotten gains on adult entertainment.
“Some of the money he spent and the way he spent it is embarrassing,” said Pelletier, who has served on the council for 30 years. “He’s a college man. He should know better.”
The city charter includes a recall process for elected officials and a mechanism for replacing the mayor “by reason of sickness or other cause.”
The nine-member City Council has the authority to find Correia “unable to perform the duties of the office” and install its president, Ponte, as acting mayor with a vote of seven councilors, according to the charter.
Pelletier, however, said he doesn’t believe enough councilors would vote to force Correia to step aside. The recall process takes too long, he said.
“You could probably squeeze five [votes] unless the people badger these other guys,” Pelletier said.
If Correia is convicted, he would be ousted under the charter.
Another councilor, Steven A. Camara, said Correia should decide whether to resign. He said he wouldn’t support a recall or any effort to force Correia to step aside and put an acting mayor in charge of Fall River.
“One is innocent until proven guilty,” Camara said. “An indictment is an accusation.”
City operations aren’t solely reliant upon Correia, Camara said, noting Fall River has a city administrator and department heads who run different aspects of municipal government.
“The mayor is one person,” he said.
In 2014, the city ousted Mayor William Flanagan in a recall election and voted in Samuel Sutter, who was then Bristol district attorney. A few months before the vote, Correia, then a city councilor, accused Flanagan of trying to intimidate him. He said Flanagan showed him a gun during a ride in Flanagan’s vehicle, after Correia signed a petition seeking the recall.
Correia first ran for mayor in 2015 at age 23, defeating Sutter and becoming the youngest person elected to the post in Fall River’s history. Last year he won reelection by a wide margin.
The state Democratic Party declined to say whether Correia should resign.
“The charges against Mayor Correia are serious, and the people of Fall River deserve a thorough, fair, and transparent investigation,” Veronica Martinez, the party’s executive director, said in a statement.
Asked Friday how he would respond to a city councilor who has called on him to step down, Correia chuckled.
“Oh, come on,” he said. “City councilors always talk.”
Correia said he has a full agenda and plans to attend events throughout the city.
Then he let the elevator doors close, ending the interview.Michael Levenson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.