Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia addressed reporters outside federal court in Boston following his arraignment Friday afternoon. (Kim Tunnicliffe/WBZ NewsRadio)
FALL RIVER, Mass. (WBZ NewsRadio) — The controversial mayor of Fall River, Jasiel Correia, has been arrested on federal charges for the second time in a year. This time, for allegedly extorting marijuana businesses and forcing his chief of staff to give him half her salary.
The 27-year-old mayor was taken into custody Friday morning and arraigned in the afternoon. He pleaded not guilty to all of the 24 charges against him, which include bribery, extortion conspiracy, wire fraud, and filing false tax returns. He was released on a $250,000 secured bond.
Correia was ordered not to travel outside of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He had already had his travel restricted to the continental United States after his 2018 indictment.
At a press conference Friday morning, U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said Correia is accused of running his city as pay-to-play institution to fund his lavish lifestyle and pay off his debts.
"If the allegations in today's indictment are true, Mayor Correia has engaged in an outrageous, brazen campaign of corruption which turned his job into a personal ATM," Lelling said.
After his release, Correia addressed reporters outside the federal courthouse in South Boston, maintaining his innocence.
"I'm not guilty of these charges," Correia said. "I've done nothing but good for the great city of Fall River, with me and my staff, and I'm gonna continue to do great things for our city."
Correia would not answer repeated questions about whether or not he plans to resign.
He's alleged to have extorted at least four marijuana vendors for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribe payments in exchange for giving them a letter allowing them to open their businesses in Fall River.
"Correia allegedly simply showed up at a vendor's place of business with his chief of staff and asked for $250,000 in exchange for a non-opposition letter," Lelling said.
Correia allegedly told one vendor he would reduce that company's payments to the city under a host agreement if the vendor paid Correia $25,000.
The mayor's former Chief of Staff, Genoveva Andrade, was also arraigned Friday on charges of extortion, theft and bribery, and making false statements.
Lelling's office says Correia forced Andrade to pay him half of her $78,000 salary paycheck-to-paycheck if he agreed to hire her and keep her on.
Andrade allegedly told one of the marijuana vendors, "You want to hear something even more f***ed up ... I have to give [Correia] half of my salary."
Around the same time, according to the indictment, the two agreed that Correia would kick back a $10,000 city-funded snow stipend to Andrade.
Andrade is also alleged to have told an unidentified middleman that Correia has a safe with "hundreds of thousands" of dollars obtained from bribes.
Three other Correia associates—Antonio Costa, 51, and Hildegar Camara, 58, both of Fall River, and David Herbert, 54, of Westport—face extortion and false statements charges for their alleged part in the marijuana vendors scheme. They will be arraigned at a later date.
Correia's lawyer, Kevin Reddington, says he believes the government has a weak case against his client.
"There is no corroboration, there's no physical evidence," he said. "There's no legitimate witness, other than somebody that's cutting a deal with the government."
Fall River City Council President Cliff Ponte, who has served as Acting Mayor, spoke with Howie Carr on WRKO, saying Correia's legal issues cast a "black cloud" over the community.
"It's a disappointing day for Fall River, and I gotta say, that's the thing that's ringing with me the most," Ponte said. "I wanted to reassure this community ... that you can rely on me, you can rely on other councilors, through this challenging time."
Correia was arrested on federal fraud charges nearly a year ago, accused of defrauding investors in the development of his app, SnoOwl.
In that indictment, Correia was accused of using the hundreds of thousands of dollars investors put into his company to buy a Mercedes, as well as tens of thousands of dollars worth of airfare, luxury hotel stays, casino visits, and adult entertainment.
Correia has proclaimed his innocence in that case, and has been awaiting trial.
He also made news three weeks ago when he interrupted a Fall River City Council meeting, causing tension that led to police being called.
Correia is due back in court on October 16 for a status conference.
WBZ NewsRadio's Kim Tunnicliffe (@KimWBZ) reports