Mayor Charged With Taking Bribes in Exchange for Cannabis Licenses

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BOSTON (AP) — A young Massachusetts mayor’s tortuous tenure took a different strange turn Friday when he was arrested on charges he conspired to extort hundreds of thousands of dollars from businesses looking for to operate marijuana organizations.

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, who became the old mill city’s youngest mayor when he was elected in 2015 at age 23, brazenly accepted money bribes in exchange for issuing official letters necessary to receive a license to set up a cannabis organization, authorities alleged.

At least 4 organization owners paid a total of $600,000 in bribes to the mayor, and he applied the revenue to assistance a lavish life style and cover mounting legal bills, they stated.

“Without hesitation, Mayor Correia was extorting marijuana vendor right after marijuana vendor,” U.S. Lawyer Andrew Lelling stated at a news conference right after the mayor’s arrest. “It’s striking the lengths he went to get the revenue, and the seeming indifference with how overt his activities have been.”

In one particular instance, Lelling stated, Correia walked into a vendor’s workplace and just asked for $250,000 to problem one particular of the letters. One more time, Correia was paid $75,000 in money though sitting in the backseat of a auto. He promptly handed more than a signed letter, Lelling stated.

In a short court look, Correia pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include things like bribery, extortion, wire fraud and filing false tax returns. A judge ordered him to post $25,000 of a $250,000 bond, and his travel was restricted to Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“I’m not guilty of these charges. I’ve accomplished nothing at all but great for the terrific city of Fall River,” Correia stated outdoors the courthouse. “And I’m going to continue to do terrific issues for the city.”

His lawyer, Kevin Reddington, stated the indictment “reads like a negative John Grisham novel.”

He recommended that some of the government’s witnesses had criminal records and that the arrest was politically motivated. Correia is amongst 3 candidates in the mayoral main Sept. 17.

“This is a case exactly where there’s no corroboration, no physical proof, no reputable witness,” Reddington stated. “The timing of this indictment is also troubling.”

After a rising political star in Massachusetts, Correia has remained in workplace regardless of efforts to force him out amid his legal troubles. He was currently facing charges on accusations that he stole investor funds to bankroll a lavish life style. He has pleaded not guilty.

The most recent investigation, which also involved agents from the FBI and the IRS, highlighted the possible for abuse in Massachusetts’ nascent retail marijuana sector, authorities stated Friday.

Beneath state law, a so-referred to as non-opposition letter is expected to receive a license to operate a marijuana organization. The head of the neighborhood government challenges the letters, which say that he or she has verified that the organization is in a permissible zoning district.

Correia has issued at least 14 of the letters, such as two for his present girlfriend’s brother, authorities stated. It was not clear no matter whether authorities have been alleging that there was any illegal activity involved in the issuing of the letter to the brother.

State Inspector Basic Glenn Cunha stated he hopes the indictment leads state marijuana regulators to take into consideration extra safeguards.

Massachusetts voters authorized the sale of recreational marijuana in 2016 the initial storefronts opened final November.

Friday’s indictment also facts other accusations against Correia. Authorities say the now-27-year-old mayor also accepted money payments and a Rolex watch from a house owner to approve permits for his industrial developing.

He also had his chief of employees, who also faces federal charges, give him half of her salary in return for permitting her to maintain her city job, prosecutors stated. It was not clear no matter whether the staffer had a lawyer who could comment on the case.

Genoveva Andrade, a 48-year-old Somerset resident, faces comparable extortion, theft and bribery as her former boss. She produced her initial look Friday and wasn’t requried to enter a plea. Her lawyer declined to comment afterward.

3 other associates are also charged in the marijuana extortion scheme and will seem in court on a different day.

In a strange turn of events this year, Correia was recalled by voters and then promptly reelected on the exact same evening in March.

Correia pleaded not guilty in October to a 13-count indictment charging him with defrauding investors and filing false tax returns. Prosecutors say he collected far more than $360,000 from investors to create an app that was supposed to assist organizations connect with customers.

As an alternative, he allegedly spent far more than $230,000 of the revenue on jewelry, designer clothes and a Mercedes, as properly as on his political campaign and charitable donations.

A trial on these federal charges is to commence Feb. 24.

This story has been updated.

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