Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia, Defiant, Calls Fraud Charges “Politically Motivated”

He railed against the indictment against him, defended his app, and said the only way he's leaving is if voters recall him.

Jan. 6, 2016 photo via  AP/Stephan Savoia

When Jasiel Correia, the embattled 26-year-old mayor of Fall River, called a press conference Tuesday morning, many believed he would be announcing his resignation.

How could he not? Facing a litany of charges for allegedly defrauding investors and the IRS, how could he continue to carry out his duties leading the city?

But that was not what Correia, a Democrat, had in store for the gaggle of reporters and the many watching from home. Instead, those gathered at Fall River’s city hall were greeted by a defiant mayor who dismissed the charges as the work of his political rivals and said in fiery terms that he had no plans to step down.

From day one this investigation was politically motivated,” he said, after telling the press that he was speaking largely off the cuff against the advice of his legal team. He said the only way he’s leaving office is if residents vote to recall him.

Correia was arrested Thursday and charged with nine counts of defrauding investors and four counts of wire fraud. Investigators say he spent $231,000 of the $364,000 investors gave to his start-up company SnoOwl on himself, including on a Mercedes, designer clothing, dating services, student loans, and “adult entertainment.” It’s also alleged that he misled his investors about the progress made by the app and that he failed to properly report income to the IRS.

But he insists he is “100 percent innocent,” adding, “This is America. I am presumed innocent until proven otherwise. I will not allow political enemies to remove me from office for their own selfish agendas.”

Addressing the allegations in a 13-count indictment directly, Correia gave a short presentation challenging the findings of U.S. Attorney’s office. He countered the charge that he sought to mislead the IRS about his taxable income by sharing an email between himself and the CEO he appointed to take over SnoOwl when he assumed the role of mayor, which he said shows he cooperated with an accountant’s attempts to study his financial records.

“I didn’t tell people, ‘Please cover up my scheme.’ That is just not true, and through a trial we will prove that that is not true,” he said.

He also sought to discredit U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling’s assertion that the SnoOwl app was worthless and merely a “prototype,” showing evidence that it had been approved by Apple and included for download on the App Store, and inviting those assembled in the crowd to raise their hands if they had the app on their phones, which several did.

“That is a real app!” he said after demoing the way in which it culled social media posts from area restaurants, before imploring his supporters in Fall River to contact members of the media directly. “Tweet at reporters,” he said. “Tell people about this app.”

Correia has resisted calls to leave office. Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito in a statement urged him “to step aside until the case is resolved.” Congressman William Keating echoed that sentiment on Monday: “As a former District Attorney, I believe in the presumption of innocence in our criminal justice system. I also realize how all-consuming the defense process is and that it could compromise the mayor’s most important responsibility — fully addressing the needs of the City of Fall River,” he said. “As difficult as it may be, I hope the mayor makes the decision that puts the people of Fall River first.”

A rally calling for Correia to resign is scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. Fall River’s City Council also hold a meeting Tuesday to discuss the charges.

The Fall River Herald News reports Correia was served an eviction notice at his home this week, although it’s not clear why, and he did not address the report Tuesday.