FALL RIVER (CBS) – Fall River's young mayor, Jasiel Correia, was arrested on 13 federal fraud charges Thursday.
The United States Attorney's office says Correia, 26, is charged with defrauding investors and using the money to pay for his "lavish lifestyle" and political campaign.
U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling said Correia used investor money on items including airfare, luxury hotels, casinos and adult entertainment. He also purchased a Mercedes Benz and jewelry for an ex-girlfriend.
"This was not about poor accounting or investment mistakes," Lelling said.
Correia was first elected Mayor of Fall River at age 23 in November 2015 after serving on the city council there for two years.
Federal prosecutors say before that, back in 2012, he created a company called SnoOwl, which aimed to develop an app to connect local businesses with potential customers, and began looking for investors.
"Starting in approximately January 2013, and continuing until at least in or about May 2017, Correia perpetrated a scheme to defraud SnoOwl investors by making false representations and diverting a significant portion of the investors' funds to himself, while neglecting the development of the company to focus on his political career," prosecutors wrote in the indictment.
"Of the approximately $363,690 Correia received from the seven individual SnoOwl investors, Correia used at least $231,447, approximately 64-percent of all money invested, to fund his own lavish lifestyle, burgeoning political career, and the needs of his other business ventures."
Correia was arraigned in federal court in Boston. A judge ordered him released with his case continued until December 6.
Correia denied the charges and said he would not resign from office. "I've done nothing wrong, if you look at my track record as mayor all you see is positive results," Correia said Thursday outside court.
Investigators say the mayor also filed false tax returns in 2013 and 2014 and never mentioned SnoOwl in those returns. Prosecutors allege Correia then amended those returns in May 2017 "after learning that he and SnoOwl were the targets of a federal investigation."
FBI special agent in charge Harold Shaw called Correia's actions "underhanded, shameless and greedy."
"Mr. Correia blurred the lines between his private business and public duties, using investor funds as his own personal ATM, systematically looting almost one-quarter of $1 million," Shaw said.
"Mayor Correia has brought undeserved shame and embarrassment upon the City of Fall River," he added.
The Fall River mayor had previously endorsed Gov. Charlie Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito for re-election in November. Following Correia's arrest, the endorsement has been removed from the campaign website.
"Governor Baker and Lt. Governor Polito believe these federal charges are very serious and will continue to work with other local officials and the people of Fall River to ensure the city has the representation and leadership it deserves as this legal process moves forward," Baker/Polito campaign spokesman Terry MacCormack said.
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