Fall River mayor charged with bilk­ing app in­vestors

Feds: $360,000 col­lected for ‘own per­sonal ATM’

Pawtucket Times - - REGION/OBITUARIES - By BOB SALSBERG and ALANNA DURKIN RICHER

BOS­TON — A Mas­sachusetts mayor who was first elected at age 23 was charged Thurs­day with us­ing in­vest­ments in a com­pany he formed as his "own per­sonal ATM" to en­joy casi­nos and adult en­ter­tain­ment, buy a Mercedes, and pay down stu­dent loan debt.

Jasiel Cor­reia, the mayor of Fall River, col­lected more than $360,000 from in­vestors to de­velop an app that was sup­posed to help busi­nesses con­nect with con­sumers, fed­eral au­thor­i­ties say. In­stead, he spent more than $230,000 of the in­vestor funds to bankroll a lav­ish life­style and ad­vance his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer, of­fi­cials say.

"His ac­tions were un­der­handed, shame­less and greedy," said FBI agent Hank Shaw. "Mr. Cor­reia blurred the lines be­tween pub­lic busi­ness and pri­vate du­ties, us­ing in­vestor funds as his own per­sonal ATM, sys­tem­i­cally loot­ing al­most a quar­ter-mil­lion dollars."

Now 26, the Demo­crat was elected as a city coun­cilor in 2013 and af­ter one term was elected mayor in 2015, the youngest mayor in the his­tory of the old mill city of about 85,000 peo­ple and the first of Cape Verdean de­scent. The U.S. Con­fer­ence of May­ors said at the time he was the youngest mayor to run a city as large as Fall River. He won re-elec­tion hand­ily in Novem­ber.

Cor­reia was ar­rested early Thurs­day in Bridge­wa­ter and charged with wire fraud and fil­ing false tax re­turns. He pleaded not guilty in Bos­ton's fed­eral court, told re­porters he be­lieves he will be vin­di­cated and said he will "ab­so­lutely not" re­sign.

"I look for­ward to my day in court to share my side of the story and to clear my name," he said in a writ­ten state­ment.

Cor­reia founded SnoOwl in 2012 and be­gan the next year to seek in­vestors in re­turn for eq­uity in his com­pany, the in­dict­ment says. While he spent the funds for his per­sonal gain, U.S. At­tor­ney An­drew Lelling said, he lied to in­vestors about the progress of the app as the com­pany floun­dered.

Prose­cu­tors al­lege Cor­reia stole at least $231,447 from seven in­vestors in SnoOwl. Au­thor­i­ties say he also filed false tax re­turns as soon as he learned he was un­der fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Prose­cu­tors say he used the money to pur­chase tens of thou­sands of dollars of luxury items, in­clud­ing jew­elry for an ex-girl­friend, de­signer cloth­ing and a Mercedes; to pay for per­sonal travel and en­ter­tain­ment; to fund his po­lit­i­cal cam­paign; to pay down his stu­dent loan debt; and to make char­i­ta­ble do­na­tions in his own name.

"Dur­ing the elec­tion, he even touted his stew­ard­ship of SnoOwl as one of his pri­mary qualifications to be mayor of the town," Lelling said.

Cor­reia at­tended Prov­i­dence Col­lege in Rhode Is­land and in 2014 was named en­tre­pre­neur of the year by the Fall River Area Cham­ber of Com­merce, ac­cord­ing to his on­line bi­og­ra­phy, which called him "a clas­sic ex­am­ple of a Fall River kid made good."

Fall River is a work­ing-class city in south­east­ern Mas­sachusetts, some 55 miles from Bos­ton. It is per­haps most fa­mous for Lizzie Bor­den, a res­i­dent who was ac­quit­ted of killing her father and step­mother with an ax in 1892.

Cor­reia's par­ents con­tem­plated mov­ing out of the city when he was in mid­dle school, but he re­sisted be­cause he al­ready had his sights set on be­com­ing mayor, his mother told The As­so­ci­ated Press in 2016.

Cor­reia was re­cently among 10 Demo­cratic may­ors in Mas­sachusetts who chose to en­dorse Repub­li­can Gov. Char­lie Baker for re-elec­tion in Novem­ber over Baker's Demo­cratic chal­lenger, Jay Gon­za­lez.

Terry MacCor­mack, a Baker cam­paign spokesman, said the gover­nor be­lieves the charges are "very se­ri­ous" and will work with of­fi­cials to en­sure the city has strong lead­er­ship as Cor­reia's case moves for­ward.

The gover­nor's re-elec­tion cam­paign Thurs­day re­moved Cor­reia's en­dorse­ment from its web­site.

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