The former mayor of Fall River, Mass., who was elected at 23 after pitching himself as an ambitious entrepreneur and product of the city, was convicted by a federal jury on Friday of defrauding investors of more than $200,000 and extorting marijuana vendors.
The former mayor, Jasiel F. Correia II, 29, used investor money from his tech start-up to pay for lavish goods, trips and clothing, according to an indictment. After becoming mayor of Fall River, which is about 50 miles south of Boston, in 2016, Mr. Correia used his position to gain bribes from marijuana vendors looking to establish their businesses in the city.
When he was in college, Mr. Correia founded an app called SnoOwl, which was designed to help local businesses connect with a network of customers. Seven people invested about $360,000 in the app, of which Mr. Correia spent about $230,000 on designer clothing, jewelry, travel, “adult entertainment,” and a Mercedes, according to the indictment.
Mr. Correia also used about $10,000 of investor money to pay down his student debt and to fund his political campaign.
To conceal the theft, Mr. Correia denied investors access to financial records, lied to them with false updates and also lied to his then-girlfriend, on whom he spent thousands of dollars, telling her that he made his money from the sale of a different app, according to the indictment.
After Mr. Correia became Fall River’s mayor, he took bribes from marijuana vendors in exchange for nonopposition letters, which are required in Massachusetts to obtain a license to operate a marijuana business in the state.
Bribes from four vendors ranged from more than $75,000 to $250,000 in cash, campaign contributions and other payments, according to court documents.
Mr. Correia was convicted on charges of wire fraud, falsifying tax returns and related counts of extortion. Mr. Correia, who is set to be sentenced in September, could face up to 20 years in prison for the wire fraud charges and up to 20 years for the extortion charges.
The acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, Nathaniel R. Mendell, told reporters on Friday that the verdict was “a fitting end to this saga.”
“He sold his office, and he sold out the people of Fall River,” Mr. Mendell said.
Mr. Correia told reporters that he would appeal.
“Eventually, the real truth will come out,” Mr. Correia said. “I will be vindicated, and my future will be very long and great.”
Mr. Correia’s lawyer, Kevin Reddington, who did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday, told reporters outside the courthouse on Friday that an appeal would most likely come after the sentencing, the television station WPRI reported.
“We respect the jury’s verdict, but that’s what we have appeals courts for,” he said.
Mr. Correia was indicted in October 2018 for wire fraud and falsifying tax returns, and then again in September 2019 in a superseding indictment for extortion conspiracy and extortion, in addition to other crimes.
Mr. Correia, who was 23 when he was elected in 2015, became the city’s youngest mayor and promised to revitalize Fall River, a city that was once home to a booming textile industry but declined as manufacturing went overseas.
Mr. Correia, the son of Portuguese and Cape Verdean immigrants, was born and raised in Fall River and impressed voters with his ambition, confidence and loyalty to the city. In 2008, Fall River named him “Youth of the Year” for his work with teenagers addicted to drugs.
By 22, Correia was a self-described entrepreneur with his app SnoOwl, which was released in 2015. He returned to Fall River after college, determined to expand the business there and run for local office.
“I’m a product of Fall River,” Mr. Correia told The Herald News in Fall River in 2014. “I’m young, I’m ambitious and I’m a hard worker. I want to see myself and Fall River succeed.”
In a special election in March 2019, Mr. Correia was voted out of office but then voted back in on the same ballot. In a general election in November 2019, he ran for re-election and lost.