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Testimony ends in federal corruption case against former Fall River mayor

Former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia is accused of a slew of financial crimes.
Former Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia is accused of a slew of financial crimes.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Testimony ended Thursday in the federal corruption trial of former Fall River mayor Jasiel F. Correia II after prosecutors presented new evidence of his heavy spending habits and the defense called only three witnesses.

The judge instructed jurors that they should not be influenced by Correia’s decision not to take the stand in his defense.

“He doesn’t have to say anything,” US District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock told jurors, who heard nine days of testimony. Closing arguments are slated for Monday.

Prosecutors allege Correia, 29, a Democrat, stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from people who invested in SnoOwl, a smartphone app he helped create in 2013 while attending Providence College, then extorted $600,000 from marijuana vendors while he was mayor from 2016 to 2019. He’s also accused of forcing his chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade, to hand over half of her $78,000 annual city salary and a $10,000 stipend she received for her work during snowstorms.

Before resting their case, prosecutors recalled Internal Revenue Service special agent Sandra Lemanski to the stand to present bank records meant to show that Correia used kickbacks from Andrade or money he swindled or extorted from others to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.

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The records show that soon after Andrade was paid by the city, she wrote a check to Correia, ultimately giving him $22,800 of the $40,324 she earned from the city over eight months, beginning in December 2017.

“So she gets paid and writes a check to Jasiel Correia?” Assistant US Attorney David Tobin asked.

“Correct,” Lemanski replied.

In March 2018, Correia wrote two checks totaling $14,500 to Boch Toyota for a down payment on a 2015 Mercedes G550, purchased in the name of his fiancee, Jenny Fernandes, for $83,000, Lemanski said. Between 2018 and 2020, Correia made monthly car payments of about $1,000 through automatic withdrawals from his personal checking account, she said.

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Correia’s ex-girlfriend had previously testified that he showered her with gifts, from $700 Christian Louboutin high heels to Tiffany jewelry; flew across the country for a day trip to celebrate the Fourth of July with her; and rented a helicopter to show her Newport, R.I.

On Thursday, Correia’s attorney, Kevin Reddington, suggested during cross-examination that there was nothing wrong with Andrade donating a portion of her salary to Correia and that she didn’t try to hide it.

“There was a clear paper trail?” Reddington asked the agent, noting that Andrade wrote checks to Correia and he deposited them.

“That’s correct,” Lemanski said.

Andrade wasn’t called to testify. She pleaded guilty in December to extortion, bribery, and other charges and admitted she plotted with Correia to extort two businessmen. She has yet to be sentenced.

The defense called three witnesses, including Sarah Hartry, deputy general counsel for the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, who testified that the agency concluded that Dina Pichette, the wife of a man seeking to open a marijuana dispensary in Fall River, had violated campaign finance law by using someone else’s name to funnel $3,000 to Correia’s mayoral campaign. By law, an individual may donate a maximum of $1,000.

“It was determined he [Correia] had no knowledge” of the illegal donation, Reddington said.

“That’s right,” Hartry said.

On Wednesday, Pichette’s husband, Matthew, testified that Correia “was dirty” and through a middleman had demanded $25,000 from him in 2018 in exchange for a non-opposition letter from the mayor. A non-opposition letter is a state requirement for any applicant seeking a license to open a marijuana dispensary.

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Pichette said he disguised the bribe by having friends and relatives, including his wife and two sons, write checks to Correia’s campaign. He then reimbursed them. But he said his wife’s name appeared on joint bank accounts with their sons, so she was cited after each of them wrote a $1,000 check to Correia’s campaign. He said she paid a $5,000 fine for the campaign violation, and Correia later apologized to her.

The defense called another witness in an effort to cast doubt on the testimony of Charles Saliby, who testified Wednesday that Correia personally collected a $75,000 cash bribe from him in July 2018 and handed him a copy of the non-opposition letter and host agreement as they sat in the mayor’s city-issued SUV.

Carla Dutra, a secretary for Fall River’s corporation counsel, testified that in July 2018 she mailed a non-opposition letter and host agreement to an attorney representing Saliby. But she acknowledged during questioning from prosecutors that she wasn’t working on July 5, 2018, the date of the letter signed by Correia.

The third defense witness, Jonathan Carreiro, a Swansea man who runs software projects, testified that Correia was committed to making SnoOwl successful and came to him for help with the app when it stopped functioning. He said a software engineer anticipated it would take $5,000 to $10,000 to get it working. But that effort stopped in 2018 when Correia was indicted, he said.

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Shelley Murphy can be reached at shelley.murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.