Embattled Mass. Mayor Hopes Primary Voters Will Disregard His Arrests
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The mayor of Fall River, Mass., has two arrests under his belt. Most recently, it was on charges that he extorted money from applicants applying to run marijuana businesses in the city. He's been ousted by the city council. Well, today Fall River voters will decide whether 27-year-old Jasiel Correia should have another shot at running their city. Here's Nadine Sebai of The Public's Radio in Rhode Island.
NADINE SEBAI, BYLINE: It's been a tough few weeks for Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, but you'd never know it.
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UNIDENTIFIED CORREIA SUPPORTER: Woo. Correia for mayor. Right here, Mayor.
SEBAI: Many Fall River residents still appear to love their mayor in spite of the 24 charges that have been filed against him in less than a year. Standing outside city hall, a group of about 30 people held up campaign signs as cars drove by honking their horns to show their support for Correia.
Catherine Botelho was there as the enthusiastic young mayor in a suit shook hands with every supporter that showed up.
CATHERINE BOTELHO: What do I want to say to him? He knows how I feel about him.
BOTELHO: I love him like he's my son.
SEBAI: Botelho and Correia smiled at each other.
BOTELHO: My friend.
JASIEL CORREIA: Hi, Cathy (ph).
BOTELHO: How do I feel about you?
CORREIA: Oh, (laughter) - you love me. And I love you.
BOTELHO: I know you do. I know you do.
SEBAI: But just two weeks before the city's preliminary election, this same mayor was in handcuffs. Federal law enforcement officials allege Correia extorted hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana vendors who wanted to get licenses to participate in the Massachusetts legal pot market. Prosecutors say he sometimes accepted payment in the form of 12 to 15 pounds of marijuana.
On the day of Correia's arrest, the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said the investigation is just beginning.
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ANDREW LELLING: If the allegations in today's indictment are true, Mayor Correia has engaged in an outrageous, brazen campaign of corruption, which turned his job into a personal ATM, victimizing not only the specific people noted in the indictment but the residents of the city that he is supposed to lead.
SEBAI: The city council ordered Correia to turn over his keys and government-issued car. But so far, he's refused to do it. And it's not the city council's first attempt to oust the mayor either.
Correia's legal troubles began after he designed an app, shortly before becoming mayor, that would help businesses attract consumers while they were shopping. At 26 years old, he was indicted for allegedly milking the app's investors and using the money to buy a Rolex watch and fund a lavish lifestyle. When Correia was arrested for that, a recall election was held, where he was recalled and voted in as mayor on the same night. Now Correia is banking on his supporters to be there for him in a new election today.
CORREIA: They know they're a bunch of nonsense allegations. And I think they also know - not even I think - I know they know that we've done a good job. This team at city hall has done a good job for the people of Fall River.
SEBAI: City Council President Cliff Ponte is working hard to keep Correia out of office. Ponte says if Correia is re-elected mayor, it'll hurt Fall River's economic stability.
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CLIFF PONTE: The mayor completely lacks credibility. And at this time due to the additional multiple charges, when he creates a lack of credibility in this city, for example, would a national company be willing to negotiate economic development opportunities for someone under indictment? We don't know that.
SEBAI: Correia will faceoff against two other candidates today. The top two vote-getters will be placed on the general election ballot in November.
For NPR News, I'm Nadine Sebai in Massachusetts.
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