BOSTON – After he was elected mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, at just 23 years old, it seemed Jasiel Correia's political career had nowhere to go but up. Bright and dynamic, Correia charmed voters by portraying himself as a successful entrepreneur who could revive the struggling old mill city.
Prosecutors say in reality he was a fraud and a thief.
Correia heads to trial this month on charges that he stole more than $230,000 from investors in a smartphone app he created to pay for things like a Mercedes, casino trips and adult entertainment. As mayor, he's accused of convincing his chief of staff to give him half of her salary in order to keep her city job and extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana businesses seeking to operate there.
The trial — one of the first to be held in Boston’s federal court since the start of the coronavirus pandemic — will showcase Correia’s dramatic rise and fall in the southeastern Massachusetts city of 89,000 that's still hurting by the collapse of its once-booming textile industry. Prosecutors will try to show that Correia swindled investors just like his critics say he smooth-talked voters into entrusting him with the city.
“My husband says it best: He could convince the pope that there’s no God,” said Linda Pereira, a Fall River city councilor whom Correia defeated to be reelected mayor in 2017.
Even as Correia's former chief of staff and three others have pleaded guilty in the extortion scheme, the former mayor, now 29, has remained defiant. He has denied any wrongdoing, insisted the app designed to help businesses connect with consumers was legitimate and blamed the charges on political foes who want to bring him down.
The question now becomes: Will he take the stand to try to convince jurors? Correia's name is on the defense's witness list, but it remains unclear whether he will actually testify.
Unlike many defendants who keep quiet to avoid saying anything that could be used against them in court, Correia has been outspoken since his 2018 arrest. He walked reporters through a PowerPoint presentation to rebut the allegations days after the first charges were brought, and participated in a documentary series executive produced by Mark Wahlberg about Correia's tumultuous political career.