FALL RIVER — The City Council voted 8 to 1 Tuesday night to temporarily relieve besieged Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II of his duties while he faces federal corruption and fraud charges. The council also passed a motion that Correia should vacate his office by 5 p.m. Friday.
Cliff Ponte, the council president, said Tuesday’s decision is “what’s best for Fall River.”
“The mayor needs to step up and leave,” he said.
Ponte had indicated in a Monday letter that he would call for a vote of the council Tuesday night that would relieve Correia of his duties if seven councilors supported it.
An acting mayor would stand in his place “until such a time that the charges against you are withdrawn.”
However, such a move could trigger a legal challenge.
Joseph I. Macy, Fall River’s corporation counsel, has suggested that such a vote would be not legally binding.
In a Monday letter to the mayor and council president, Macy said “There is no explicit provision in the Charter that the contemplated vote ‘ipso facto’ relieves they Mayor of his duties.”
Ponte said that should the mayor seek an injunction to prevent his ouster, the council would retain outside attorneys.
Correia stands accused of extorting marijuana vendors. Specifically, prosecutors allege the 27-year-old Democrat pressured businesses to pay $575,000 in cash bribes in exchange for city approval.
His arrest on Friday came after he was arrested in October and charged with stealing more than $231,000 from investors in his tech startup and with filing false tax returns to hide the scheme.
He has pleaded not guilty in both cases.
In his letter Monday, Ponte implored Correia to temporarily step aside and to “do what is best for Fall River.”
Ponte said that if a department head or other city employee were facing the charges Correia is, they would be placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of the investigation.
“The residents of Fall River deserve to have a government they can trust,” Ponte said. “Restoring that trust needs to be a top priority.”
Standing outside City Hall with about two dozen sign-wielding supporters before the meeting Tuesday night, Correia was defiant, saying “The law does not allow them to do what they’re trying to do.”
Correia said the recent allegations against him are false. Some drivers honked their horns in support, while at least one motorist drove by and gave a thumbs-down sign.
“I was here Monday to do my job,” Correia said. “I was here Tuesday, and I’ll be here Wednesday.”
When asked whether he would attend the council meeting, Correia said, “There’s enough drama out there. I don’t need to be in there.”
Before the vote, Councilor Stephen R. Long said that past and future city contracts and appointments are “suspect” because of Correia. “His credibility is shot,” he said.
Councilor Bradford L. Kilby said Correia’s ouster was a long time coming and called his alleged criminal activity “brazen.”
“Be a man, step down, work on your problems,” Kilby said.
Councilor Steven A. Camara, who cast the sole vote against relieving Correia of his duties, suggested the council did not have the authority to remove an elected official.
“I will take the uncomfortable position that it is wrong for us to do something that is not within our jurisdiction,” he said.
Outside City Hall, Susan Mathias, 72, said she came out to support Correia because he has revitalized the city.
“This mayor has brought Fall River back from the brink of bankruptcy,” she said. “We’ve got fantastic economic development.”
Paul Christy, 72, had a different take. He held a sign that simply read “JAIL.”
“That’s where he belongs,” he said. “He’s giving the city a bad name.”
Following his October arrest, Correia dismissed a chorus of calls for his resignation and survived an attempted ouster in March, when he was recalled and then reelected on the same ballot.
Correia had swept into office in 2016, promising fresh energy for the 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.
He was arrested Friday morning while playing tennis at a public court in Fall River.
Some of the alleged extortion occurred while he was under federal indictment for allegedly stealing more than $230,000 from investors in his tech startup, prosecutors said.
Correia began “monetizing his official position to fund his lavish lifestyle and mounting legal bills” within months of becoming mayor in January 2016, according to the federal indictment, which charged him with extortion conspiracy, extortion aiding and abetting, and bribery.
There is a preliminary city election next Tuesday. Correia is running against Paul Coogan and Erica Scott-Pacheco, both of whom ran in the March recall election. In that contest, Coogan lost to Correia by fewer than 250 votes, while Scott-Pacheco came in last.