Fall River mayor Jasiel Correia was arrested on Friday, less than two weeks before the city’s preliminary election. It’s the mayor’s second arrest in less than a year. And his constituents are divided on how to feel about that.
It was on Thursday night Mayor Correia took part in a debate with his opponents in an effort to sway voters to re-elect him.
"The things that we’ve done under this administration," Correia said, "has moved the city forward for every single person in our community and I want to continue that stable progress."
The next morning, Mayor Correia was in handcuffs, sitting in the back seat of a black-van headed to a federal court in Boston.
The FBI alleges he and his former chief of staff extorted marijuana vendors for cash and sometimes accepted payment in the form of 12-15 pounds of marijuana.
"If the allegations in today’s indictment is true, Mayor Correia has engaged in an outrageous, brazen campaign of corruption," U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Andrew Lelling said to reporters. "[It's] 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."
The embattled mayor is pleading not guilty for all the charges against him.
"I’m not guilty of these charges," Correia said outside of the courthouse. "I’ve done nothing but good for the city of Fall River."
Last October, Correia was indicted on federal fraud charges for an app, SnowOwl, which he started before he became mayor. Many of his supporters at the time said that indictment was a personal matter and didn’t represent what he could do as an elected official.
Less than a block away from Correia’s office at City Hall is the South Main Senior Center where Nancy Suspiro is the coordinator. She says she supported 27-year old Correia through much of his turmoil.
"He’s been good to us" Suspiro said, noting Correia gives the center free sandwiches and other meals throughout the year. "[And] he comes and talks with them, so they like him."
But not all visitors have Correia’s support. One senior named Jane who’s lived in Fall River her entire life remembers one time Correia came to visit on Valentine’s Day weeks before his re-election where, in a surprising move, he was re-called and voted-in as mayor on the same night.
"He’s used to come in here and give [all the women] a rose," Jane remembers. "He really was smart about that to get all the votes and he got the votes."
Correia’s name will remain on the ballot. He’s running against former recall election candidate Erica Scott-Pacheco and School Committee member Paul Coogan.
"It’s a sad day for Fall River," Coogan said. "There’s a lot of people that love this city and we’re being led by someone that’s not who they pretend to be and that’s the problem."
Fall River residents will head to the polls in less than two weeks under a tumultuous situation they’re all too familiar with. Until then, the city’s council president will hold the temporary title as mayor.