Fall River, Mass., Mayor Jasiel Correia II was arrested Sept. 6 and charged with extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash and campaign contributions out of local cannabis business owners by accepting bribes in exchange for license approval.
Specific charges against Correia include: bribery, extortion conspiracy, extortion and aiding and abetting, wire fraud, and filing false tax returns. (Apart from the cannabis extortion, Correia is also accused of taking former chief of staff Genoveva Andrade’s salary as part of another scheme, according to court documents. Andrade was also charged with extortion conspiracy; extortion; theft and bribery; and false statements.)
Correia has written 14 “letters of non-opposition” for cannabis businesses seeking to operate in Fall River. In Massachusetts, that sort of local approval is needed before a business can pursue a state license. Local approval also requires a host community agreement—a form of contract in Massachusetts’ cannabis industry that allows municipal officials to work out particular financial or economic deals with business owners as part of operating within the city or town.
According to U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s office, Correia’s bribes ranged from $100,000 to $250,000 in cash, campaign contributions and mortgage discharges.
“Marijuana was also exchanged for resale,” Lelling’s office writes, detailing the extortion conspiracy. “It is alleged that Andrade and Correia met with marijuana vendors and discussed signing non-opposition letters in return for cash.”
According to the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission, only three licenses have been approved by the state in Fall River: Northeast Alternatives Inc.’s cultivation, product manufacturing and retail licenses. The state has issued three provisional licenses for Fall River businesses: Greener Leaf, Hope Heal Health, and Nature's Medicines, but they have not officially opened yet.
In August 2019, Fall River City Council approved an ordinance to limit the number of cannabis businesses in the city to 11 (or 20 percent of off-premise liquor licenses, if that number is larger than 11). One week after that ordinance passed, Correia vetoed the legislation.
"Without hesitation, Mayor Correia was extorting marijuana vendor after marijuana vendor," Lelling said at a press conference. "It's striking the lengths he went to get the money, and the seeming indifference with how overt his activities were."