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Facing federal charges, Fall River mayor steps aside — but eyes a comeback

Jasiel Correia II took pains to make clear that he was not leaving politics for good. “Whether serving in an official capacity as an elected official or not, I will continue to fight every day to improve the lives of every resident of Fall River. And I fully expect to lead this city on the rise once again in the future.”Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

FALL RIVER — Jasiel F. Correia II, facing federal fraud and corruption charges, stepped aside as mayor and suspended his reelection campaign on Tuesday, but only after delivering a rosy valedictory speech in which he declared that he had revitalized the city and might run for office again in the future.

Correia, a 27-year-old Democrat, was beaming when he pulled up in a black SUV, where a mass of reporters and a handful of supporters were waiting for him outside a clanging construction site where the city is building a new high school.

Reading from prepared remarks, Correia sounded as though he were giving a “State of the City” address as he spent nearly 10 minutes boasting that he had rescued the city’s finances, attracted craft breweries and other new businesses, transformed the education system, and upgraded the police and fire departments in this city, one of the state’s poorest.

“Today’s announcement provides the city of Fall River an opportunity to build on the successes and accomplishments of my administration without any distraction,” Correia declared. “This announcement allows the voters who will take to the polls the chance to evaluate the candidates on policy and platforms, not headlines.”

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Correia took pains to make clear that he was not leaving politics for good.

“Today is not goodbye,” he said. “It’s far from it. Whether serving in an official capacity as an elected official or not, I will continue to fight every day to improve the lives of every resident of Fall River. And I fully expect to lead this city on the rise once again in the future.”

At the end of his speech, he spun around, walked briskly back to the driver’s side of his SUV, and drove off, ignoring shouted questions from reporters who chased after him. Later in the day, he walked from office to office in City Hall, hugging employees as he bid them farewell.

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Among Fall River residents, the reaction to the mayor’s departure was less congenial.

Several angry voters pointed out that, by taking a leave of absence and not resigning, Correia will retain his $119,000 annual salary while handing his responsibilities to the City Council president, Cliff Ponte, who will assume the title of acting mayor until Correia’s term ends in January.

“I just think he’s a complete ass,” said Debbie Alix, a 65-year-old caretaker who was walking out of a CVS near the mayor’s announcement, paper towel rolls in her arms. She said the mayor should have simply resigned and accepted the loss of his salary. “I mean, he’s trying any way he can to get money,” she said. “I can’t wait till he gets behind bars.”

Correia has been arrested twice in the last year. Last October, federal prosecutors charged him with stealing more than $231,000 from investors in his tech startup and alleged that he spent the money on travel, a Mercedes-Benz, casinos, and adult entertainment.

Last month, federal prosecutors charged him in a separate criminal case 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.

Correia has pleaded not guilty in both cases, and narrowly survived a recall effort in March.

Victor Da Silva, an unemployed 44-year-old resident, said outside CVS that it was wrong for Correia to continue to draw a paycheck while on leave.

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“I knew he was no good,” Da Silva said, blaming the mayor’s alleged crimes on his youth and inexperience. “When you pick a young kid like that, you know it’s trouble.”

Ponte, who has been calling on the mayor to step down, did not respond to messages on Tuesday. The US attorney’s office in Massachusetts, which is prosecuting Correia on charges of tax evasion, extortion, and bribery, declined to comment.

Correia’s name will remain on the November ballot, even though he has said he has stopped campaigning. He finished a distant second in a three-way preliminary election in September to School Committee member Paul Coogan, who won 62 percent of the vote.

Coogan said Tuesday that the mayor’s announcement wouldn’t affect his campaign, although he was critical of Correia for not resigning, saying, “He should step aside completely and get on with his life.”

In an interview with the Globe before his announcement, Correia insisted he would not resign.

“There’s no reason for me to resign,” Correia said. “I believe I’ve done a good job, and I believe the people of Fall River think so, as well. I have not done anything wrong.”


Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.