Fall River mayor released after pleading not guilty to extortion, bribery charges

BOSTON (WHDH) - The embattled mayor of Fall River was released on Friday after pleading not guilty to charges he extorted at least four marijuana vendors for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

Mayor Jasiel Correia II, 27, who is already facing a federal trial for fraud and tax evasion, was arrested at his home Friday morning and arraigned in federal court in Boston on extortion, theft, bribery, and false statement charges.

Correia, who stood handcuffed in front of a judge, was ordered to post $25,000 out of a $250,000 bond, stay away from witnesses and victims in the case, and refrain from traveling outside of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him and told reporters that he has no plans to resign.

“I’m not guilty of these charges and I’ve done nothing but good for the great city of Fall River,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do great things.”

A superseding indictment filed Friday indicates Correia allegedly agreed to issue non-opposition letters to marijuana vendors, which are required in order to operate in Massachusetts, in return for cash bribes and other payments.

The alleged bribes ranged from about $100,000 to $250,000 in cash, campaign contributions, and mortgage discharges, according to United States Attorney Andrew. E. Lelling. Marijuana was also said to be exchanged for resale.

Lelling said Correia ran Fall River as a “pay-to-play institution” and used his position as a “personal ATM,” citing one incident in which he received $75,000 in cash in the back of a car, and in exchange, he handed over a letter allowing a marijuana business to operate in the city.

The indictment also says Correia also allegedly extorted a building owner for cash and a Rolex watch worth about $10,000 in exchange for the approval of, payments for, and permits for excavating work to activate the water supply to a commercial building.

Genoveva Andrade, Correia’s former chief of staff, was also arrested Friday on charges including extortion and bribery, according to the FBI.

Andrade was arraigned as well and was released on $150,000 bond. She was ordered to have no contact with victims in the case and refrain from traveling outside of Massachusetts and Rhode Island after pleading not guilty to the charges against her.

Correia is also accused of forcing Andrade to give him half of her $78,000 salary and almost all of a $10,000 “snow stipend” in return for appointing her and allowing her to keep her city job.

Andrade reportedly told a business owner that Correia “has a safe with hundreds of thousands of dollars that he has received from bribes,” court documents said.

Video taken by a resident of Correia’s neighborhood showed multiple law enforcement officials leading the handcuffed mayor into the back of an SUV.

“Mayor Correia’s pattern of crime was expansive. He spun a complex web of layered financial transactions using multiple co-conspirators and involving hundreds of thousands of dollars,” said Kristina O’Connell, a criminal investigator for the Internal Revenue Service. “He victimized his investors and his constituents but he also victimized honest, hardworking taxpayers.”

Correia pleaded not guilty last year to collecting more than $360,000 from investors to develop an app that was supposed to help businesses connect with consumers but instead spent more than $230,000 of the investor funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle, federal prosecutors said.

The 27-year-old was recalled and re-elected on the same night last March.

Correia, who was first elected at age 23, is running for re-election.

An investigation is ongoing.

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