Fall River mayor was marijuana consultant

FALL RIVER — While in office, former Mayor Jasiel Correia II was engaged briefly as a private consultant with the marijuana company Northeast Alternatives, with his new gig sanctioned by the state Ethics Commission in 2018. 

Despite promising his consulting work with Northeast Alternatives would not include city business in his capacity as mayor, just seven days later Correia signed a letter of non-opposition and host agreement allowing the pot company to open a facility in the city, after getting advice in an email from an Ethics Commission attorney. 

Four days after getting the letter and agreement, a principal at Northeast Alternatives donated $20,000 to Correia’s legal defense fund. 

Correia set up the fund in January 2018 as word got out that he was under FBI investigation and before two arrests by federal agents in October 2018 and September 2019. 

More: State stalls Northeast Alternatives pot license citing ties to Jasiel Correia investigation

The federal criminal trial against Correia is set to begin on April 20 on charges that include he allegedly extorted upward of $600,000 from four marijuana vendors who were seeking letters of non-opposition and community host agreements needed before pursuing licensing. 

More: Mayor Correia now has $35,000 in his legal defense fund; $20,000 came from one person

While Northeast Alternative isn’t named as one of the alleged victim vendors in the 46-page second indictment, the company’s chief executive officer, Christopher Harkins, does play a role in the federal prosecutors’ case against Correia. 

Harkins is expected to be called as a material witness not related to the marijuana extortion charges. 

Gen Andrade, Correia’s co-defendant, pleaded guilty to extortion and bribery charges in December. In addition to a role in the extortion scheme, Andrade is accused of bribing Correia by handing over half her salary as his chief of staff. 

The consulting arrangement between Correia and Northeast Alternatives came to light in Suffolk Superior Court records and are contained in the marijuana company’s lawsuit against the Cannabis Control Commission. 

More: Mayor Correia rakes in $55K in donations from local marijuana industry

Northeast Alternatives’ lawsuit is continuing to seek a preliminary injunction against the CCC for holding the marijuana company in “administrative limbo” with its months-long refusal to grant a provisional license to open a more than $3 million adult use cultivation facility in Lakeville. 

The presiding federal judge in the Correia case granted the CCC’s protected information last June regarding the allegations of his marijuana extortion scheme. 

The CCC has paused the licensing process for Northeast Alternatives application to determine what it categorizes as the “suitability” of the company and Harkins. 

Last week, lawyers for Northeast Alternatives filed an amended complaint. A footnote of the court document addresses the past business agreement with the former mayor. 

“While NEA had entered into a consulting agreement with Correia, that agreement was disclosed to and approved by the Massachusetts State Ethics Commission before its execution, and NEA terminated the agreement after a month when Correia failed to prepare the work product required under contract,” the amended complaint footnote states. 

More: Read the full indictment of Mayor Jasiel Correia

On Friday morning, Northeast Alternatives’ lawyers sent a flurry of court filings in support of the complaint, including an image of an email thread between Correia and Ethics Commission attorney Pauline Nguyen.  

The communication began with the former mayor’s request for advice on a potential for a conflict of interest over the consulting contract. The email thread starts on March 28, 2018, and ends with Nguyen’s response on April 6, 2018. 

Correia wrote: “It is my intent to ensure through this email exchange that I am with my rights and responsibilities to perform the following duties on my own separate time and apart from my duties as the Mayor of Fall River, MA.”  

Correia indicated in the email that Northeast Alternatives was seeking his consulting assistance in Connecticut and Rhode Island, with the possibility of work in other states.  

“In no way will I use my position and to influence other deciders. I want to make sure that my participation is in accordance with State Ethics Regulations,” wrote Correia. 

His role as a consultant, explained Correia, would be to assist the company with “municipal strategies, marketing and relationship building.” 

Regarding “other deciders,” Correia was in fact, the only city official who brokered host agreements and decided who would receive the coveted letters of non-opposition — of which he signed at least 13 between June 2016 and late summer of 2019 as he was fighting for his political life during contentious recall and re-election campaigns. 

One of the letters went to his now-fiancé’s brother. 

The Ethics Commission response notes that the attorney formulated her advice based on information that Correia presented and that he was able to consult with Northeast Alternatives provided he adhered to a set of state conflict of interest laws. 

The Commonwealth’s statutes on conflict of interest are pretty straightforward including that Correia wasn’t allowed to act as an agent for the company related to business with the city; if any issues came before the mayor with regard to a financial interest for Northeast Alternatives, Correia would have to recuse himself; and he was prohibited from giving the company any advantages over other entities in his capacity as mayor. 

Correia signed Northeast Alternatives’ host agreement on April 13, 2018. 

There is no indication in any of the lawsuits court filings whether or not Correia received compensation during his reported one-month stint as Northeast Alternatives’ consultant.  

Ethics Commission spokesperson Gerry Tuoti said Friday that the agency, by law, can neither confirm nor deny if a party requested or received advice on conflict-of-interest inquiries. 

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