1st Circuit Upholds Conviction of Former Mayor in Cannabis Biz Bribery Case

The First Circuit affirmed the Massachusetts District Court’s ruling finding the former mayor of a Massachusetts town, Jasiel Correia, guilty of tax fraud, wire fraud, and corruption. The charges stem from an app Correia created, as well as allegations that he extorted and solicited bribes from prospective cannabis business owners while in office.

Judges Lynch, Selya, and Howard found his defenses unconvincing, upholding his sentence to seventy-two months in prison.

Per the order’s summary of the case, while in college, Correia sought investors to produce an app called SnoOwl. He made big promises, and implied that the app might eventually be purchased by Silicon valley; however, he spent investor funds on personal expenses, including $700 shoes for his partner at the time. For this misuse of funds, he was convicted of wire fraud, and then convicted of tax fraud for lying to the IRS about SnoOwl to avoid tax liability.

In 2015, Correia won his election and was inaugurated in 2016 as the mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts. Also in 2016, Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana. To obtain leave to open dispensaries, hopeful entrepreneurs needed to obtain a non-opposition letter from and a host community agreement with the municipality in which they wished to open their store. 

The prosecution, led by U.S. attorneys Mark Quinlivan and Rachael Rollins, detailed how on numerous occasions Correia and his associates solicited and received bribes totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for non-opposition letters and host community agreements. For these bribes, Correia was found guilty of violating the Hobbs Act.

In his appeal, Correia, represented by Fick & Marx LLP, argued that a number of his convictions were made in error because the facts did not line up with the legal requirements. The First Circuit dismissed these arguments as misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the law at hand. For example, Correia argued that he was innocent of one of the counts of corruption, since he received the benefit after the aforementioned paperwork was conferred. The circuit court rebuffed stating that the law requires only that the agreement be made before the benefits are conferred to all parties involved.

In addition, Correia tried to avoid his sentence through procedural arguments centering around the court allowing evidence from dismissed counts to contaminate proceedings for the remaining counts, the court not adequately instructing jurors to analyze each count individually, and the prosecutors using improper character depictions.

As to the first argument, the First Circuit held that the spillover evidence was sufficiently dry to not have “poisoned the well” and still relevant to the remaining counts. The court also found that the jury instructions were will within the court’s discretionary power and not egregious enough to warrant attention on appeal.

They also emphasized that the jurors did in fact acquit on some counts and convict on others, contradicting Correia’s contentions with the trial. As to the other evidentiary issue, the First Circuit found that while prosecutors have, in the past, used improper character arguments, the statements made by those in this case were acceptable, and if Correia truly took issue with them, he and his counsel should have raised those objections during the trial.

The order was written by Judge Selya.