Correia indicted on charges of fraud

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The mayor of Fall River was indicted last Thursday on charges that he misled investors in the funding of a mobile application and then falsified tax documents to cover up the fraud.

Mayor Jasiel F. Correia pled not guilty to all charges during his arraignment last Thursday at Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston.

“I want to state, unequivocally, that I am innocent of all the allegations and charges made against me today,” Correia posted in a Twitter press release.

Correia stands accused of defrauding investors in his company, SnoOwl, an app designed to better connect small businesses with clients locally.

According to an unsealed 22-page indictment, Correia duped seven investors out of $363,690. He proceeded to spend about $231,447 on his “lavish lifestyle” and political career. Within weeks of receiving his first investment, Correia purchased a 2011 Mercedes. He spent additional funds on designer clothes, jewelry, gifts for his then-girlfriend, dating services, hotel rooms, casino trips and “adult entertainment”.

According to MassLive, in or around February 2015, while serving on the Fall River City Council, Correia filed false 2013 and 2014 tax returns, failing to disclose SnoOwl funds he diverted to his personal Citizens Bank account. In May 2017, while serving as Mayor, Correia learned of an FBI investigation into SnoOwl, at which time he filed falsely amended tax returns for 2013 and 2014 in an attempt to cover his tracks.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling contended that Correia knew exactly what he was doing. “This was not about poor accounting or investment mistakes,” he said at a press conference announcing the charges.

“Mr. Correia blurred the lines between his private business and public duties, using investor funds as his own personal ATM, systematically looting almost one-quarter of $1 million,” said FBI special agent in charge Harold Shaw.

Upon hearing of the charges, City Council President Cliff Ponte made his way to the office of Judge Joseph Macy, the Corporation Counsel for the City of Fall River. “We want to ensure our taxpayers that city residents are safe and protected,” he told The Fall River Herald News. Ponte scheduled a special meeting of the City Council for last Tuesday night.

A city councilor told a Journal reporter that they believe the council will have the votes to oust Correia. Doing so would require at least a 7-2 majority and would result in a lawsuit being filed against the city by the mayor.

A special meeting of the Fall River City Council held Tuesday night began with comments from roughly ten residents, including former city councilors and candidates for office. Afterward, Councilor Shawn Cadime introduced a resolution to remove the mayor from office under the powers granted to the council by the city charter. Councilor Steve Camara objected, postponing the vote. The objection was seconded by Councilor Joseph Camara (of no relation).

Cadime motioned for a vote of no confidence, to which Steve Camara objected. Councilor Steven Long motioned to request that the mayor step down, to which both Camaras objected.

The meeting ended with no motions being passed.

Correia told the press that he would “absolutely not” resign, despite calls to do so from Governor Charlie Baker (R-Mass.), Rep. Joseph Kennedy III (D-Mass.) and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“I think the best thing to do would be for the mayor to step aside, deal with this issue, wherever it goes, and give the city a chance to operate out from under that,” Baker told The Boston Herald. “I certainly think it would be in the best interest of the city for him to step aside as this issue plays itself out.”

On Tuesday, Correia spoke to a crowd of supporters and members of the media at Government Center. During the press conference, Correia scrapped a five-page planned address written with his counsel in favor of an ad-lib presentation about SnoOwl’s purpose. He maintained that he would not resign. He did not take questions from the press, who were bombarded with cries of “fake news” from supporters that had gathered.

Correia, 26, was considered a “rising star” in the Democratic Party. He was first elected to the Fall River City Council as a 21-year-old, while he was still attending Providence College. He was a pivotal figure in the 2014 recall of Mayor William Flanagan, whom Correia accused of threatening him with a firearm in a late-night drive when he found out Correia had signed the petition to recall Flanagan.

In 2015 Correia announced his intentions to seek the mayorship, mounting what was considered at first an unserious challenge against the well-funded and well-liked Samuel Sutter, a former District Attorney. Correia staged an upset victory over Sutter, garnering roughly 52 percent of the vote to Sutter’s 48 percent.

Although popular, Correia had made enemies in the local political community. He came under fire after terminating the contract of the Fall River Office of Economic Development (FROED) for what many saw as a personal grudge against the agency’s director, Ken Fiola. Fiola’s wife, Carole Fiola, is a State Representative who represents much of Fall River in the General Court.

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