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Fall River mayor shows no sign of voluntarily stepping aside

Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II is under indictment on fraud and tax evasion charges.
Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II is under indictment on fraud and tax evasion charges.Dave Souza/The Herald News of Fall River via Associated Press

A city councilor called his actions “absolutely disgusting.” The governor said he should give up his post. And federal authorities have labeled him a “greedy” profiteer.

Yet, in the face of a federal indictment on charges of fraud and tax evasion and a mounting effort to remove him from office, Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II has remained defiant, offering no indication he will voluntarily resign despite a Wednesday deadline to do so or face a recall election.

That desire to cling to office is a familiar one in Massachusetts’ history of political scandal, where criminally charged politicos have often resisted appeals to leave office willingly — and quietly — convinced they could weather the storm, or perhaps, find vindication.

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Their shared experience offers a lesson: Resistance rarely worked in their favor, suggesting that Correia faces harsh odds should he stay in a prolonged fight to save his political skin.

“Part of this is arrogance. If he actually believes he’s going to beat this, he’s just denying the inevitable,” said James Cusick, an organizer behind the effort to recall Correia, who has pleaded not guilty. “He’s a tough person to deal with. No one is going to tell him what to do. That’s the way he operates, that’s the way he runs the city. But it’s not going to change what’s going to happen to him.”

Similar warnings have dotted history. On Beacon Hill, then-state Representative Carlos Henriquez resisted demands that he give up his seat in 2014 after he was convicted of punching a woman who refused to have sex with him.

The Dorchester Democrat never accepted guilt for the incident even after he served six months in prison, and it took a vote in the House to ultimately oust him from his seat, making him the chamber’s first expulsion in nearly 100 years.

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Years earlier, it was the Senate weighing the same move against Dianne Wilkerson, who initially defied calls in 2008 to step away after she was accused of taking $23,500 in bribes, including 10 $100 bills she stuffed into her bra while being recorded by the FBI. Wilkerson said at one point during the weekslong saga that she would resign but would not say when. It wasn’t until the chamber was preparing a vote to expel her that she abruptly quit.

That same month, fellow Senator James Marzilli also resigned his seat, but it came some four months after he was indicted on charges of accosting four women in downtown Lowell. To that point, he had ended his reelection campaign, but remained in office, even as the state Republican Party set up a website counting the tax dollars supporting his salary and benefits.

And it’s not just the State House. The Boston City Council had never voted to toss out one of its own members before it threw Chuck Turner from office in 2010 following a federal bribery conviction. The longtime councilor had pledged to serve out his term, insisting that his arrest was a racially motivated setup.

On the day the council expelled him, Turner delivered fiery speeches both in and outside the council chamber, and, at one point, compared himself to former Boston mayor James Michael Curley.

Curley, in fact, remains one of the few examples of a criminally stained Massachusetts politician successfully keeping his grip on power, in his case for decades. He was elected to the city Board of Alderman in the early 1900s while serving a jail sentence for a fraud conviction, and decades later, served five months in a federal prison on a separate mail fraud conviction during his fourth term as mayor.

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President Harry S. Truman commuted his sentence and later gave him a full pardon, adding to Curley’s legacy as the “rascal king.”

Whether Correia can successfully maneuver the legal and political headwinds buffeting him is unclear.

A one-time political wunderkind elected as the youngest mayor in Fall River’s history, he was arrested in October on charges of defrauding investors in his tech startup SnoOwl of $231,000 and filing false tax returns to hide it.

The fallout was swift. Governor Charlie Baker, who had once accepted Correia’s endorsement, called for the Democrat to “step aside” while his case is pending. The Fall River City Council gave him a vote of no confidence in November, and last week, its members gave him until Wednesday to resign or face a recall election after a petition garnered 4,533 signatures — or roughly 2,000 more than what was required to certify it.

Neither Correia nor his attorney responded to requests for comment Monday, but the 27-year-old mayor has repeatedly insisted he wouldn’t step away and framed the allegations as a business dispute that unfolded before he became mayor.

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“I will not allow political enemies to remove me from office for their own selfish agendas,” Correia said at an October press conference.

The council, too, is making plans to move ahead. It’s slated to meet on Jan. 2 to schedule the recall election, perhaps in March. City Council President Cliff Ponte said Monday that Correia hasn’t given the body any formal indication whether he intends to step away by Wednesday’s deadline, but Ponte, like others, isn’t holding his breath.

“He’s made it public he’s not, and I doubt he will,” Ponte said of a resignation.

Thomas Whalen, a Boston University professor and political historian, said Curley may be the most prominent example but there are other politicians who’ve managed to resurrect their political careers after criminal charges or convictions. Chief among them was Vincent “Buddy” Cianci, the longtime Providence mayor who twice resigned in the wake of criminal cases, but remained an immovable figure in the city’s political scene. He even ran again for mayor in 2014, but lost.

“These kinds of scandals do not preclude the end of a political career, and [today] it might actually enhance a political career,” Whalen said, pointing to the power of social media as a promotional tool. “It’s about hits. For good or bad, when your name’s out there, that could help you raise money.”

And, Whalen said, it could even provide a boost when it comes to the people who ultimately decide whether you keep power: the voters.

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“It will at least give you name recognition,” he said of a high-profile fight, “to be at the starting gate of the next political race.”


Reach Matt Stout at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him on twitter @mattpstout.