By Scott J. Croteau
A Mercedes, jewelry, designer shoes and trips to casinos; the young mayor of Fall River was living the high life, but federal investigators say it was done with stolen cash.
Jasiel F. Correia II, a Democratic two-term mayor, was arrested Thursday at his home and charged with multiple counts of wire fraud and filing false tax returns in connection with alleged theft of money from people who invested in his business app. He is facing charges in federal court in Boston Thursday morning.
Correia founded a company called SnoOwl in late 2012 to develop an app designed to connect local businesses with their target consumer market.
The 26-year-old, who was elected mayor in November 2015, was re-elected to a second two-year terms in November. Authorities allege money he stole from investors was used to help his "burgeoning" political career.
Seven people invested $363,690 in Correia's project, but federal investigators say more than half that money went to fund the mayor's "lavish lifestyle, burgeoning political career, and he needs of his other business ventures."
A federal indictment accuses Correia of spending at least $231,447 of the investors' money on himself.
"Within weeks of receiving his first investor money in January 2013, Correia bought himself a Mercedes," the federal affidavit said.
The theft of investor cash took place between 2013 and 2015, authorities say.
Tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry, designer men's shoes, women's clothing, trips to casinos, adult entertainment, plane tickets and even donations to charities were paid for through stolen money, investigators say.
Correia knew he was under investigation for his SnoOwl venture in 2017. Authorities claim he instructed an accountant to amend 2013 and 2014 personal tax returns and was not assessed any taxes for the investor money he alleged stole.
Correia "actually received a refund from the IRS in June 2017," authorities said.
Correia began seeking investors in January 2013. People gave him cash in return for equity in the company.
He told people he was a successful tech entrepreneur who previously sold another app, FindIt Networks, for a large profit. Correia told investors he would not take a salary for SnoOwl.
Two other unnamed people agreed to formally start SnoOwl in December 2012. A bank account for the company was opened a month later in Rhode Island.
Correia allegedly told one associate that compensation for himself or the associate would be "off the table" and no salaries or hourly pay would be given, authorities say.
The second associate joined SnoOwl in exchange for equity in the company. Neither associate was ever paid any money for their work.
Correia's investors included an orthodontist in Massachusetts who gave the future mayor $145,000 between 2013 and 2015. A month after receiving a payment from the orthodontist, Correia bought a 2011 Mercedes C300 AWD Sport Sedan, authorities said.
Correia is accused of telling the investor the app was going well, but in May 2014, he allegedly told the investor that SnoOwl was "in a lot of trouble."
Other investors included a business owner in Rhode Island, who met Correia at a Fall River Chamber of Commerce event while Correia ran for city council.
There was also a small business owner living in Florida and Massachusetts who gave money to the business.
"To date, no SnoOwl investor has received any return or interest on his investment, and the business of SnoOwl is essentially worthless," authorities said.
Federal records say Correia hid "his ill-gotten gains" from the IRS and hid another business from the IRS.
During his run for mayor, Correia touted his founding of the company, claiming it was one of his qualifications for the job, federal records say.
After becoming mayor in 2015, authorities say Correia was unresponsive to investors and software developers.
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