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Mass. Mayor’s Cannabis Extortion Trial Delayed Until 2021

A Massachusetts mayor charged with shaking down would-be marijuana businesses for their required licenses will not face a jury until January of 2021 at the earliest, a federal judge said in court Thursday, delaying the trial for the second time due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jasiel Correia, 28, the former mayor of the South Coast of Massachusetts city of Fall River, had been set for trial in September. But U.S. District Judge Douglas P. Woodlock said Thursday that, although trials may be back underway by then, defendants like Correia who are not being held in custody will generally have to wait.

“I think this is a case that should not anticipate going to trial until at the earliest January, and maybe not then,” Judge Woodlock said during the brief afternoon status conference. “The trial date previously established is not one that is realistic in light of the pandemic and the continuing state of emergency.”

When the case is tried, it’s also not clear whether Correia will stand trial alongside his former chief of staff, Genoveva Andrade.

Andrade also faces charges in connection with Correia’s alleged extortion of hundreds of thousands of dollars from marijuana businesses that needed his approval to open. Andrade had a tentative November date on the books in the event the two could not be tried together in September.

This is the second time the trial date has been bumped because of the health crisis. Judge Woodlock said the thought process behind the latest delay is in line with the overall plan for reconstituting in-person proceedings in the courthouse.

The waterfront Boston building, while technically “open,” has been devoid of in-person hearings. Thursday’s status conference took place via video conference, with Judge Woodlock seated in his courtroom and the other participants scattered across their various locations.

Judge Woodlock said the court is still in the process of figuring out how jury trials will play out and has been receiving advice from a team of epidemiologists from Tufts Medical Center.

“It appears possible that we can start jury trials maybe in September, maybe a little bit later,” Judge Woodlock said. “We also have what I’ll call a triage, an order of battle the court has always pursued, which is that criminal cases have priority over civil cases and criminal cases with persons in custody have priority over cases where the defendants are not in custody.”

Correia’s original trial date was May 29.

Prosecutors claim the former mayor, who was elected when he was only 23 years old, took advantage of his position and a Massachusetts law requiring marijuana business owners to obtain a “letter of non-opposition” from the leader of its local government in order to open.

Correia extorted bribes from at least four businesses, the government claims.

The now-former mayor was arrested twice while in office. In 2018, he was indicted on charges he stole from investors in an app he developed. Despite the indictment, he survived a recall election in early 2019 before being arrested again on the separate marijuana business extortion charges.

He is also accused of soliciting bribes from a building owner seeking permits, and prosecutors said he required Andrade to pay him half her salary in exchange for her job as chief of staff.

Correia is represented by Kevin J. Reddington.

The government is represented by Zachary Hafer and David Tobin of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

The case is U.S. v. Correia et al., case number 1:18-cr-10364, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.