The former mayor of Fall River, Jasiel Correia, goes to trial this week in federal court on a raft of criminal charges in what the U.S. Attorney’s office has called an “outrageous, brazen campaign of corruption which turned his job into a personal ATM.” GBH legal analyst and Northeastern University law professor Daniel Medwed joined GBH's Morning Edition to discuss the road ahead.
Joe Mathieu: Daniel, walk us through the charges that Correia, who is only 29 years old, is looking at.
Daniel Medwed: He’s staring down the barrel at more than 20 separate charges and they include extortion, bribery, filing false tax returns and conspiracy. The charges generally revolve around two broad activities. First, fraud: Starting back in 2013 or so, the Feds claim that Correia began defrauding investors to fund a now-defunct start-up phone app, SnoOwl, that was supposed to offer online restaurant recommendations. He apparently used more than $200,000 of the funds to line his own pockets and buy gifts for an ex-girlfriend, and filed false tax returns. Second, extortion: After becoming mayor in 2015 at the age of 23, he allegedly began a pattern of extortion, especially involving companies hoping to set up marijuana businesses in Fall River. We covered that process before on Morning Edition, how companies need to get the permission of each locality in order to set up shop, known as “host community agreements,” and those agreements require a letter of non-opposition from the mayor, which Correia allegedly doled out at a price.
Mathieu: We've been covering this story and these are serious allegations, to put it mildly. What should we expect to see in court this week?
Medwed: Jury selection wrapped up yesterday. The judge issued instructions, and the parties gave their opening statements, so the focus starting today, really, should be on the prosecution's case. Since the government bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and there are so many separate charges here, I suspect it will take several weeks, maybe a solid two, for the government to present its case. According to information disclosed by the prosecution, there could be as many as 35 witnesses, which is comparable to the number of state witnesses in former police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial in Minneapolis.
Mathieu: Daniel, do you have a sense of how strong the case is against him? I realize that there may be 35 people on the witness list, but do we know what they’re going to say?
Medwed: The key for me, at least, is that several possible witnesses are former co-conspirators — folks he allegedly engaged in this scheme with. And they’ve pled guilty, and it looks like some of them may testify against him as cooperating witnesses, that is, in exchange for leniency on their own charges. Presumably they have a lot of firsthand damaging information. One of the co-conspirators is his former chief staff, and she also seems to have a real axe to grind. One of the allegations against Correia is that he demanded that she kick back a huge portion of her salary to him in exchange for keeping her job.
WATCH: Daniel Medwed on Correia's criminal charges and potenital sentence