Officials allege that the 27-year-old mayor accepted US$600,000 in bribes from at least four pot businesses in exchange for signing an official letter that would allow them to operate in the municipality
The young mayor of a city in the state of Massachusetts, one of nine states where marijuana is legal, was arrested for extorting hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of bribes from cannabis companies.
Jasiel Correia, the 27-year-old mayor of Fall River, was arrested on Sept. 6 by federal officials and is currently awaiting trial.
According to the Associated Press, officials allege that Correia accepted US$600,000 in cash bribes from at least four cannabis business owners in exchange for signing an official letter that would allow them to operate in the municipality.
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said Correia walked into one business owner’s office and demanded US$250,000 for a letter. In another instance, he received a US$75,000 bribe in the back of a car.
“Without hesitation, Mayor Correia was extorting marijuana vendor after marijuana vendor,” Lelling said. “It’s striking the lengths he went to get the money, and the seeming indifference with how overt his activities were.”
In Massachusetts, budding cannabis companies are required to receive a ‘non-opposition letter’ from the head of the local government. According to boston.com, a company would typically meet with the government and go over the terms of the contract, which would include an undetermined “community impact fee,” designed to pay for city-related fees.
While the fee legally cannot exceed three per cent of the company’s total revenue, boston.com reports that 79 per cent of the agreements signed as of January exceeded that amount.
“The people who are going for those smaller businesses are getting squeezed out because they don’t have the money to compete with the deeper pockets and can’t afford to pay those kind of ransoms,” Peter Bernard, president of the Massachusetts Growers Advocacy Council, told the website.
Since the arrest, Correia, who became Fall River’s youngest mayor when he was elected in 2015 at the age of 23, pleaded not guilty to the charges, and has been temporarily removed from office.
Earlier this year, Correia was facing charges related to investment fraud and was recalled from office, but then won back his position in the subsequent election.
Despite having his temporary removal from office, he placed second in the city’s preliminary elections on Sept. 17 and will appear on the ballot in the mayoral election in September.
Law enforcement officials have said that Correia’s alleged bribes showcase how the state’s cannabis laws can be abused and taken advantage of, and recommend additional safeguards be put in place.
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Written by Jacob Dubé