BOSTON — Former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II had his virtual day in court Thursday as three federal 1st Circuit Court of Appeals judges heard arguments about why the ex-politician now incarcerated should have his convictions overturned or receive a new trial.
Oral arguments were heard before appellate judges Sandra L. Lynch, Bruce Selya and Jeffrey R. Howard during the 34-minute hearing by audio call only. The hearing was streamed live on the court’s YouTube channel.
Correia is currently serving a six-year sentence for fraud and political corruption in federal prison in Berlin, New Hampshire.
Somerset barrister and legal analyst Steven Sabra appeals judges will not immediately make a decision on Correia’s appeal.
“Generally, it takes about two to three months for a decision. They will first assign one of the judges to write a draft, then it will be distributed to the judges. If there is a dissenting opinion, it will be written and then they will write a full decision,” Sabra said.
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Targeted oral arguments
Correia’s appeals lawyer, Daniel Marx, did not stray from the pages of written arguments to have his case dismissed or receive a new trial, but focused on narrower issues outlined in the arguments. call with Assistant US Attorney Mark Quinlivan.
Somerset lawyer and legal analyst Steven Sabra said two contentious issues struck him: whether the federal jury hearing Correia’s 2021 case was a “discerning” jury, and whether whether or not prosecutors prejudiced the jury when they showed a videotape during closing arguments of a debate video between Correia and former mayor Sam Sutter regarding his claims with his app company SnoOwl.
Marx argued that this was not an informed verdict.
“Here, the jury convicted Mr. Correia on 21 of 24 counts. These included all charges of wire fraud, all charges of tax evasion, and all charges related to marijuana sellers,” Marx said.
He noted that the jury found Correia not guilty on just three “marginal” counts for which he said there was “really no evidence.”
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In May 2021, the jury found Correia guilty of 21 counts of defrauding investors in the SnoOwl app before his mayoral election, SnoOwl-related tax evasion, and political corruption by extorting businessmen. marijuana cases during his two terms as mayor from 2016 to 2020.
However, prior to sentencing in September 2021, Federal District Court Judge Douglas Woodlock tossed out 10 of the guilty verdicts related to the SnoOwl case, on the grounds that prosecutors had failed to provide sufficient evidence to prove those charges.
Quinlivan rejected Marx’s argument and said the three counts the jury acquitted Correia on three of the bribery charges, and noted that Woodlock found the jury “discriminating and discriminatory in this case”.
“It was a very careful jury; it was clear to me. They had four days to think about it,” Quinlivan said, referring to the deliberations.
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Marx alleges ‘inappropriate’ pleading by prosecutors
After a nearly four-week trial that ended in May 2021, Correia’s defense attorney and then-Assistant U.S. Attorney Zack Hafer faced off in closing arguments. Hafer replayed a video of a town hall debate where Correia called SnoOwl a hit with investors who “loved” the app company, even though the investors were actually duped out of about $250,000.
Hafer told the jury that on camera, Correia “had no problem looking voters in the eye” while making false claims that SnoOwl was making money for investors.
“He’s someone who will say anything to get what he wants,” Hafer said in his closing.
Marx said Hafer sarcastically referred to Correia as “a candidate for honest answers”.
“It pointed to him as the supposedly honest mayor who cared about this town. Perhaps most disturbingly, it repeatedly called him out as the type of person who would lie, cheat and extort in the sense of having that type of criminal disposition,” Marx said.
Quinlivan countered that Correia’s statements were used fairly to challenge Correia’s claims with the evidence presented in the fraud portion of the case.
“So it was a fair argument in those circumstances to use the phrase ‘look voters in the eye,’ because that’s essentially what the defendant had done,” Quinlivan said, adding that in the debate , Correia literally stared at the audience as he spoke.
During his two-minute rebuttal, Marx argued that the reference to Correia lying to voters was a “classic propensity argument” that Correia was a liar in general.
“And when it’s done in the context of the voters of Fall River, it’s also a call for jurors to act as the conscience of this community,” Marx said.
The judges made brief comments throughout the hearing, but suggested it might have been appropriate given that Correia’s trial was about public corruption.
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The end of the road for Correia?
If Correia loses his appeal, it would likely be the end of a very long saga for the city’s youngest elected mayor, which began with a year-and-a-half-long federal investigation, two indictments and arrests as he was in office.
Correia’s co-defendants – former city chief of staff and campaign manager General Andrade and his associates Tony Costa, Hildegar Camara and David Hebert – pleaded guilty to crimes ranging from extortion to lying to investigators, and serve their sentences.
With the exception of Andrade, who was sentenced to one year probation and a fine, the other three co-defendants are serving time under house arrest.
Marijuana sellers and other witnesses who played a role in marijuana extortion businesses were granted immunity in exchange for their cooperation.