State Cannabis Commission Seeks Sealed Court Records on Fall River Pot Shop Deals
More information about former Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia and his alleged attempts to extort marijuana vendors in the city could soon see the light of day.
The office of U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling on Friday asked a federal judge "to share certain materials with the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission" that were filed in a federal lawsuit against Correia so the commission "can perform its legitimate regulatory duties."
Those "certain materials" include interview reports documenting talks between investigators and five unnamed marijuana vendors who interacted with Correia during his time in office, according to the filing. All evidence in the case is currently sealed from public view due to a protective order issued by a federal judge in Boston on December 11, 2018.
Lelling is seeking an amended protective order that would let the Cannabis Control Commission look at some of the discovery in the case.
It's not known exactly why the state commission wants to access that information now, but the news comes as the regulators consider whether to issue final licenses to several marijuana businesses in Fall River. Hope Heal Health and Northeast Alternatives have already opened for medicinal and adult use sales in the city. Greener Leaf and Nature’s Medicines are two companies with provisional licenses from the Cannabis Control Commission to operate in Fall River, state records show.
Lelling's brief notes that the CCC has the authority to revoke or suspend a license "if an individual or entity associated with a marijuana establishment has committed, permitted, aided, or abetted any illegal practices in its operations."
If a federal judge magistrate agrees to release documents to the commission, it's possible that the names of the five marijuana companies could become public, along with details of their principals' interactions with Correia when he served as the city's mayor. However, the brief states that if the commission does want to make the information public, it will ask permission from the court first.
Correia, first elected mayor in 2015 at the age of 23, allegedly pocketed about $600,000 in bribes from marijuana companies in exchange for so-called "letters of non-opposition." Such mayoral letters are needed in the state cannabis licensing process. He was arrested on September 6, 2019, and 11 new charges were added to a previous 2018 indictment charging wire fraud and filing false tax returns. After many twists and turns, Correia was defeated at the ballot box in 2019 by Mayor Paul Coogan. He has pleaded not guilty to all charges and is scheduled to go on trial in May.
Prosecutors say Correia issued 14 non-opposition letters, including two for his girlfriend’s brother. The Fall River Herald News previously identified the girlfriend’s brother, who received two non-opposition letters, as New Leaf Enterprises president Pedro “Peter” Fernandes.
Loop Cultivation is another business linked to the case. The wife of that vendor was fined $5,000 for illegal donations to Correia, according to the Office of Campaign and Political Finance. Proxies or individuals associated with Hope Heal Health and Northeast Alternatives entities have also contributed to Correia, MassLive has reported.
Public court records in the Correia case refer to "MJ Vendor #1," "MJ Vendor #2," "MJ Vendor #3," "MJ Vendor #4" and "MJ Vendor #5" without naming the actual businesses.
Mary Serreze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.