‘I’ve done nothing wrong,’ declares Correia
Fall River mayor strikes defiant tone following federal indictment
AN UNSHAVEN JASIEL CORREIA, arrested by FBI agents earlier in the day, was led into a federal courtroom in Boston on Thursday afternoon in leg shackles and handcuffs, dressed in black jeans and a black polo shirt.
He walked out of court a little more than an hour later in a dark blue suit and red power tie, flashing two thumbs up and a wide grin, showing the same breezy confidence that propelled him into the mayor’s office in Fall River at age 23 – and that federal prosecutors say he employed to engage in a scheme to defraud investors in a company he started, while using their money to fund a lavish lifestyle that included purchase of a Mercedes-Benz and trips to casinos and adult entertainment venues.
During a brief appearance before a federal magistrate, Correia pled not guilty to nine wire fraud charges and four tax charges contained in an indictment unsealed earlier in the day. The 26-year-old mayor was arrested Thursday morning by FBI agents and other federal law enforcement officials.
Standing outside the Moakley US Courthouse afterwards with his two attorneys, Correia adamantly denied the allegations resulting from a two-year federal investigation. “I’ve done nothing wrong,” he declared. “You will see when we have a trial that I will be vindicated.”
The charges relate to a company Correia founded while a 19-year-old student at Providence College. SnoOwl developed an app designed to help businesses target social media posts to potential customers.
According to the indictment, Correia falsely claimed to SnoOwl investors that he founded and sold another internet company. Correia received $363,000 from seven investors, but spent at least $231,000 of it to “fund his own lavish lifestyle, burgeoning political career, and the needs of his other business ventures,” the indictment alleges.
The indictment also charges that when Correia learned in 2017 that the company was the subject of a federal investigation he filed amended tax returns for two years that he knew contained “materially false” information.
Each wire fraud charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised released. The four tax charges each carry a maximum penalty of three years in prison, a $100,000 fine, and one year of supervised release.
One of Correia’s attorneys, Mark Berthiaume, said issues involving the company are a business conflict, not federal crimes. “This is a business dispute that has no business being in a federal criminal court,” Berthiaume told reporters, standing alongside Correia and well-known Boston defense lawyer Kevin Reddington in a pounding rain outside the courthouse.
Berthiaume and Correia both emphasized that none of the charges related to Correia’s official duties as mayor. Correia, who served one term on the Fall River City Council before being elected mayor in 2015, said he has no intention of giving up his office while facing federal charges.
“I’m going to go back to my office tonight and get back to work serving the people of Fall River,” he said.
Federal Magistrate Judge Mary Page Kelley set the next court date for December, an initial status conference in the case.
The federal probe had been hanging over Correia and a regular topic of political chatter in Fall River. In January, he set up a legal defense fund and collected donations to underwrite any legal costs he might incur. Such accounts are permitted under state campaign finance laws, and, unlike with campaign accounts, there is no limit on individual contributions. Correia has raised more than $51,000 for the defense fund.Rather than express shock at his arrest earlier in the day, a cocky sounding Correia instead complimented the FBI agents and tried to make light of the situation by joking that it wasn’t a great day for him – because of the weather.
“The FBI and the agents involved did a good job,” Correia said. “They were very kind to me, very nice. I didn’t have an issue with that. It’s not my best Thursday. It’s raining today. I don’t like to be out in the rain.”