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Will Fall River oust mayor accused of corruption?

Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II arrived at his Fall River office on Monday morning after being indicted Friday on a variety of bribery-related charges.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff/Globe staff

FALL RIVER — For the second time in less than a year, the mayor of this former mill city was charged in federal court in Boston and then returned to work as usual the next business day.

Jasiel F. Correia II walked into his office at City Hall just after 9 a.m. Monday, ignoring shouted questions from a reporter asking if he’d resign.

“We’re conducting business now,” an aide said, as the mayor disappeared into a back room. “It’s business as usual.”

But the city’s patience with the 27-year-old Democrat may be wearing thin, and his days in office may be numbered.


On Tuesday, the City Council is expected to consider a measure that calls on Correia to step aside and, if he does not, temporarily removes him from office and installs the council president, Cliff Ponte, as acting mayor.

The move could trigger a legal challenge from the mayor, whose lawyers have argued that the city charter does not grant the council the power to oust him.

But Ponte said the council must act after Correia was arrested Friday and charged with extorting marijuana vendors for hundreds of thousands of dollars, shaking down a building owner for cash and a Rolex watch, and demanding that his chief of staff give him half of her salary. Some of the alleged bribe-taking, prosecutors say, occurred after Correia was arrested and charged last October with stealing more than $231,000 from investors in his tech startup, and filing false tax returns to hide the scheme.

Correia has pleaded not guilty in both cases and survived an effort to remove him from office in March, when he was recalled and then reelected on the same ballot. Even though 60 percent of voters backed the recall, a quirk in the city charter gave the mayor the right to run as a candidate in the same election and he prevailed narrowly in the five-candidate contest.


Now, even some supporters say they have lost faith in the mayor and believe he must go.

“It’s a black eye for the community,” said state Representative Alan Silvia, a Fall River Democrat. Silvia voted for Correia in March but plans to back one of the mayor’s challengers in a preliminary election next Tuesday.

“He’s not a viable candidate, and I want to see the city move forward,” said Silvia, a former Fall River police officer.

Councilor Stephen R. Long said it is not clear if the measure to remove Correia from office will garner the 7 of 9 votes it needs to pass. The last time the measure was introduced, just after the mayor was charged last year, it failed on a 5-4 vote.

Long said he hopes councilors who opposed the measure last time because the charges concerned Correia’s private business affairs will change their minds on Tuesday, now that the mayor is facing accusations of official corruption.

“I don’t think we’re in a cloud anymore,” Long said. “I think we’re in a flood, and he’s drowning.”

Many residents in this city — one of the state’s poorest — seem to agree.

“I can’t wait for him to be in jail,” said Ruth Cote, a 91-year-old retired secretary and city poll worker who was sipping coffee with her friend, Ray Hetu, in a booth at Sheri’s Place, a café near City Hall. “He deserves it.”


Asked whom she would be voting for next Tuesday, Cote said, “Not him. I know that.”

Sheri Furtado, who owns the café, said she believes Correia — a frequent customer — should resign “to save face.”

But not everyone agrees, she said.

“He has a lot of followers, even after this mess,” Furtado said. “A lot of people still believe he’s the best mayor we’ve ever had.”

Correia swept into office in 2016, promising fresh energy for this city, and supporters praise him for improving parks and reducing fees. But his accomplishments have been overshadowed by allegations that he “turned his job into a personal ATM,” as US Attorney Andrew Lelling said Friday, when he charged the mayor with using middlemen to extract bribes from marijuana vendors in exchange for letters supporting their businesses.

“It’s all over the place, and people are not happy,” said Kyle Letendre, a 20-year-old pizza chef who said he and his friends have been sharing memes depicting the mayor as a gangster. He said he was going to vote next Tuesday and while he wasn’t sure whom he would support, one thing was certain: “Definitely not him.”

“We need a change, maybe someone older, with more experience,” Letendre said.

The top two finishers next Tuesday will face off in a November general election. The two candidates challenging Correia — Paul Coogan and Erica Scott-Pacheco — also ran in the March recall election. Based on those results, Coogan and Correia are most likely to emerge as the finalists in the general election. Coogan lost to Correia by fewer than 250 votes while Scott-Pacheco came in last in March.


Both candidates are pledging to restore trust in City Hall.

Coogan said if he is elected, he would appoint an independent panel to vet marijuana vendors and make recommendations to him as mayor.

“People in Fall River care about integrity and honesty and civility and making the city function the way it’s supposed to,” said Coogan, a 66-year-old School Committee member and former vice principal of Durfee High School. “That message hasn’t changed. It’s just going to be a little louder.”

Scott-Pacheco, a 35-year-old fund-raising director for a nonprofit, said she would use her background in financial management to ensure taxpayer dollars are being properly spent.

“Jasiel Correia’s unethical behavior is incompatible with public service,” she said. “My top priority is to restore respect and justice to our City Hall.”

Michael Levenson can be reached at