Fall River Mayor Jasiel F. Correia II insisted Wednesday that he has no plans to step down, despite federal indictments for allegedly extorting marijuana vendors and other crimes and a City Council vote urging the young politician to vacate his office.
“This council resolution [passed Tuesday] does not have any binding power behind it,” Correia, 27, said in a Wednesday phone interview. He added that the city charter spells out how a sitting mayor can be removed, but only for a criminal conviction. The charter is silent, Correia said, on removing a mayor who’s merely been accused of a crime.
Correia, who was elected mayor in 2015 at age 23 and survived a recall election earlier this year, reiterated his claim that he’s innocent of the charges, which allege that he not only extorted people who were hoping to open marijuana shops in his city but also clawed back half the salary of an aide for himself and bilked investors in his mobile app, SnoOwl.
Last week, federal prosecutors alleged that Correia extorted four prospective marijuana vendors for hundreds of thousands of dollars from 2016 to 2019.
“I’m innocent,” Correia said Wednesday, maintaining the indictment is “based on a lot of hearsay statements from people who were in trouble themselves. . . . I’ll have my day in court.”
His defiant comments came one day after the City Council voted 8 to 1 to temporarily relieve Correia of his duties while the criminal case is pending. The council also passed a motion that Correia should vacate his office by 5 p.m. Friday.
Correia has already weathered an attempt to oust him from office.
In March, more than 60 percent of voters recalled Correia, but he remained in office because he finished first in a five-way race for the city’s top job. A quirk in the city charter allowed him to run for reelection on the same ballot that asked voters if he should be recalled. The recall election came months after a federal grand jury indicted him on fraud and tax-evasion charges related to SnoOwl.
He was the second Fall River mayor to face a recall vote since 2014, when William Flanagan was forced to leave office.
Another test awaits Correia at the ballot boxes next week, with a preliminary city election scheduled for Tuesday. He is running against Paul Coogan and Erica Scott-Pacheco, both of whom ran in the March recall election.
Cliff Ponte, the council’s president, said Tuesday’s decision by that body is “what’s best for Fall River.”
“The mayor needs to step up and leave,” he said.
Messages left with Ponte were not immediately responded to Wednesday.
Joseph I. Macy, Fall River’s corporation counsel, had suggested the council’s vote would not be legally binding.
In a letter on Monday to the mayor and council president, Macy wrote: “There is no explicit provision in the Charter that the contemplated vote ‘ipso facto’ relieves the Mayor of his duties.”
On Wednesday, Correia predicted he would survive the upcoming primary, and when the general election is held in November, “I do believe voters are going to come out and vote for a person who has made a difference positively in their lives.”
Correia noted that the city’s rainy day fund has grown substantially under his watch and that onerous trash fees have been axed, among other improvements.
Regarding the allegations in the indictment, Correia said they’re “simply not true.”
Meanwhile, three state representatives from Fall River want state marijuana regulators to temporarily stop issuing licenses to applicants in the city, following last week’s arrest of Correia.
In a letter sent to the commission Tuesday, Representatives Carole Fiola, Paul A. Schmid III, and Alan Silvia said the system for marijuana companies to receive the necessary local permissions appears “to have been compromised” in Fall River.