Massachusetts mayor arrested for extorting marijuana vendors for 6-figure bribes

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Joey Garrison, USA TODAY

BOSTON — Jasiel Correia II, the already embattled mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, was arrested Friday on new federal extortion charges for allegedly operating a scheme to help marijuana vendors get approval to operate in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes.

Prosecutors say Correia agreed to sign non-opposition letters in return for significant six-figure payments from four marijuana vendors looking to open businesses in the city of nearly 90,000 about an hour’s drive south of Boston. The letters are required to obtain a license to operate a marijuana business in Massachusetts, where cannabis is legal.

Correia, 27, appeared in Boston federal court Friday afternoon and pleaded not guilty.

“I’m not guilty of these charges,” he told reporters afterward, standing next to his attorney outside the courthouse. “I’ve done nothing but good for the great city of Fall River, me and my staff, and my team. I’m going to continue to do great things for our citizens.”

The Democrat mayor also is accused of extorting $3,900 in cash and a $7,500-to-$12,000 “Batman” Rolex watch from a property owner in exchange for activating the water supply to his building. In addition, federal prosecutors say Correia demanded his chief of staff give him half of her $78,700 salary in return for appointing her and allowing her to keep her city job.

Four others, including the former chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade, also were charged with federal crimes.

Andrade faces federal extortion, theft and bribery, and false statement charges in connection with the scheme. Antonio Costa, Hildegar Camara and David Hebert were charged separately with extortion conspiracy, extortion, and false statements after allegedly lying to federal agents about their roles in helping Correia with his scheme.

It marks the second time in less than a year that Correia, first elected in 2015, has been indicted. He was arrested in October on charges he defrauded investors of an app company he co-owns by pocketing 64% of their payments to bankroll what prosecutors called his “lavish lifestyle” and political career. He’s pleaded not guilty to those charges as well.

He now faces 24 total charges — 13 from last year’s arrest and 11 new charges — including bribery, extortion conspiracy, extortion and aiding and abetting, wire fraud, and filing false tax returns.

Wire fraud, extortion conspiracy, and extortion aiding and abetting each each have maximum sentences of 20 years in person. The maximum sentence for filing false tax returns is three years while bribery carries up to 10 years.

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