BOSTON (AP) — A former Massachusetts mayor, once a rising Democratic star after being elected at just 23 years old, was sentenced to six years in prison on Tuesday after being convicted of extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana businesses that wanted to operate in his city.
Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia showed no emotion as the judge handed down his punishment after tossing several convictions stemming from allegations that the now 29-year-old swindled investors who backed a smartphone app he created.
U.S. District Judge Douglas Woodlock assailed Correia's actions as old-style corruption that eviscerates a community. Under Correia's watch, ”City Hall was for sale," said the judge, who also criticized his “absolute lack of remorse.”
“If we can’t trust each other, if we can’t trust our government, where are we?” the judge asked.
Correia, who has insisted that he's innocent and that the “real truth" will eventually come out, did not make a statement during the hearing in Boston federal court because he's still challenging his remaining convictions.
The defense had sought three years, telling the judge that while there's no “sugarcoating” the case, Correia also did much good for Fall River.
“None of that excuses what happened here, but I think it's required to have a fuller picture of the man and to understand how somebody might get derailed but still have hope to contribute in a future chapter of life,” Attorney William Fick said.
Correia is expected to report to prison at a later date that has yet to be decided.
Correia was convicted in May of a slew of charges including fraud and extortion after a trial that shone a light on his meteoric rise to become mayor as a recent college graduate. Correia portrayed himself to voters as a successful entrepreneur who could breathe new life into the struggling, old mill city.
Prosecutors told jurors that in reality Corriea funded his lavish lifestyle with money he stole from investors who pumped cash into his app called “SnoOwl," which was designed to help businesses connect with consumers. Prosecutors said Correia took nearly two-thirds of the almost $400,000 he got from investors and spent it on things like fancy hotels and a Mercedes and to pay down his student loans.
After becoming mayor in 2016, prosecutors say Correia started a pay-to-play scheme involving bribes from marijuana vendors in exchange for letters of approval from the city they needed in order to get a license. Prosecutors have called the corruption scheme particularly galling because much of it occurred when the former mayor knew he was already under investigation for the allegations of investor fraud.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zach Hafer — who asked for 11 years behind bars — questioned how anything other than greed and hubris could explain Correia's actions, noting that the former politician had a supportive family and was making good money as mayor.
“The cash in clipboards and in envelopes and sheds. ... Fall River under Jasiel Correia was like Atlantic City during Prohibition in terms of the crudeness of the corruption," Hafer said.
Correia told reporters outside the courthouse after his conviction that “the justice system failed us” and that he had turned down a plea deal because, he said: “I'm not guilty.” Both the prosecutor and Correia's trial attorney said Tuesday that Correia was never offered a plea agreement.
Correia was supposed to have been sentenced Monday, but the judge instead agreed with new lawyers hired by Correia after the trial to overturn the jury's guilty verdict on several counts they said the government failed to prove.
The judge agreed to toss six counts of wire fraud because of what he described as a lack of evidence about how the checks were processed. He also tossed two tax fraud counts because he said prosecutors didn't prove that Correia willfully filed false returns.
Correia remains convicted of several counts of wire fraud, extortion and extortion conspiracy. The jury acquitted him on three counts, including accusations that he forced his chief of staff to give him half of her salary in order to keep her city job.
For months after his arrest, Correia resisted calls to leave office and survived a bizarre election in March 2019 during which he was recalled by voters and reelected the same night. But after federal agents arrested him a second time — this time for the extortion scheme — he agreed in October 2019 to take a leave of absence. He was ousted by voters the next month.