Corrupt is bad enough. But the good people of Fall River appear to have thrice elected a mayor who is also as dumb as bricks.
On Friday, Mayor Jasiel Correia was indicted on federal charges for the second time in a year. Last October, federal prosecutors accused him of defrauding investors in a company he started to the tune of $231,000. This time, Correia’s alleged offenses are even more spectacular: Federal prosecutors say the mayor was shaking down marijuana vendors and others for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.
And he was doing it with all the style and discretion of a hungry bear at a tea party.
The indictment US Attorney Andrew Lelling unsealed is full of gobsmacking details, examples of extortion so naked that you have to ask: Was Correia just begging to get caught, or could he really be this thick?
The typical pol on the take might be careful to hide behind layers of middlemen, obscure the payments marijuana vendors made in return for his OK to operate dispensaries in Fall River, put distance between himself and the deals. Plausible deniability, and all that.
Not Correia, prosecutors say. This wunderkind — elected at 23 to lead one of the best and unluckiest cities in the state — was a hands-on kind of guy. Prosecutors say he used his city hall office and his official vehicle to do his shady deals. He met personally, and in public, with his marks, asking them directly whether they were willing to pay him bribes.
And most of the alleged shakedowns came when Correia knew he was already under federal investigation. In the summer of 2018, when a marijuana vendor left an envelope full of cash behind a shed at the home of one of his aides, Correia, who went with the aide to pick up the money, grew suspicious that the cash in the envelope was “Fed money,” according to the indictment, and the aide sent it back. Yet Correia and his intermediaries still pressed the vendor for the rest of the $150,000 bribe he had promised.
He allegedly leaned on a fourth vendor for $250,000 in return for his go-ahead on a dispensary, later negotiated to $150,000. To collect part of the payoff, the mayor himself went to the vendor’s office and instructed him to get inside his official vehicle where the deal was done.
But not even this was reckless enough for the good mayor. Correia also allegedly extorted money from the people who were in on his shakedowns — people who were in a position to turn on him. In exchange for an excavation permit Correia, the indictment relates, extracted a Rolex watch and cash from a man who was an intermediary in the briberies. He also shook down his own chief of staff, for half her pay — even though she knew what he was up to and had warned him not to take bribes “in front of the windows.”
Excellent counsel, we can agree.
Maybe Correia was reckless because he thinks he’s invincible. After all, he twice convinced a majority of voters in Fall River to make him mayor, winning reelection handily in 2017 even though voters knew he was under FBI investigation, and was both recalled and narrowly elected again in March.
“If he was selling Apple computers or Mercedes Benz he’d be doing just as well, he’s such a great salesman,” said Paul Coogan, a school committee member who is one of two Democrats facing Correia in the primary on Sept. 17. “He has a great gift for the gab.”
That gab will have to be very good indeed to get Correia out of this latest spot.
It’s laughable, until you think of the poor voters who believed three times that Correia’s sales pitch was real — that he really cared about them, and could save the city from stalled development and other maladies. The boy genius turns out, prosecutors say, to be a reckless con man lining his own pockets at their expense, like some old-school boss from a century ago.
He may have been too blockheaded to get away with it, but the damage has been done.