Massachusetts mayor wins spot on ballot despite indictment for extorting pot vendors

Joey Garrison, USA TODAY
FILE - In this Oct. 16, 2018 file photo, Mayor Jasiel Correia speaks about his indictment during a news conference in Fall River, Mass. Correia was arrested on Friday, Sept. 6, 2019, and faces additional charges. (Dave Souza/The Herald News of Fall River via AP, File) ORG XMIT: MAFAL201

BOSTON — A federal indictment for extorting marijuana vendors presents some pretty heavy campaign baggage.

But it hasn't taken down the embattled mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts — not yet, anyway. 

Mayor Jasiel Correia II, just 11 days after being arrested for the second time in a year, secured a spot on the November general election ballot by finishing second Tuesday in a preliminary election to narrow the mayoral field from three to two. 

But the 27-year-old mayor likely faces an uphill battle to win a third term in office this fall.

Corriea, a Democrat, finished with just 2,777 votes, according to unofficial election results, a distant second behind the top finisher, Paul Coogan, a member of the Fall River school committee, who finished with 8,273 and is now the front runner. Correia edged the third place finisher, Erica Scott-Pacheco, by 606 votes.

More: Massachusetts mayor arrested for extorting marijuana vendors for 6-figure bribes

Nonetheless, it was a moment for celebration for Correia, who addressed supporters at a seafood restaurant in Fall River, a city of around 90,000 about an hour's drive south of Boston. 

He compared himself to everyone's favorite team in Massachusetts — the six-time Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

"Tonight narrows the field. It’s the semifinals, and we’ve got the finals," he said, according to the Boston Globe. "The Patriots lose a few games once in a while. They’ve lost a couple Super Bowls, but they’re still the team that’s won the most.

“So we’re going to win, and we’re going to win big on Nov. 5.”

Correia on Sept. 6 was arrested on new federal extortion charges for allegedly operating a scheme to help marijuana vendors get approval to operate in exchange for hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes. Prosecutors say he agreed to sign non-opposition letters in return for six-figure payments from four marijuana vendors looking to open businesses in his city.

He also is accused of extorting $3,900 in cash and a $7,500-to-$12,000 "Batman" Rolex watch from a property owner in exchange for activating the water supply to his building. In addition, federal prosecutors say Correia demanded his chief of staff give him half of her $78,700 salary in return for appointing her and allowing her to keep her city job.

This isn't the first time Correia overcame an arrest to keep his political career alive.

He was arrested in October on charges he defrauded investors of an app company he co-owns by pocketing 64% of their payments to bankroll what prosecutors called his "lavish lifestyle" and political career. He's pleaded not guilty to those charges as well and is awaiting trial.   

Despite his legal troubles, Correia survived an effort to oust him from office in March. In an unusual twist, he was recalled by voters, but elected the same night by finishing first among five candidates vying to fill the mayoral vacancy.

Correia told WGBH that he's "100% innocent, whether I'm elected mayor or not" of the new charges. "The only reason I've been brought up on these charges is because of political motivations.”

But he knows he has his work cut out to survive again in two months. 

“We're going to win in November, but that's a spread that we've got to close — and that's a big gap to close,” WGBH quoted Correia saying. "So now we strategize on how to close that gap.”

Reach Joey Garrison on Twitter @joeygarrison

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Massachusetts mayor wins spot on ballot despite indictment for extorting pot vendors