Massachusetts mayor charged with extorting cannabis businesses

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(This story has been updated to include details from the U.S. attorney for Massachusetts.)

The mayor of Fall River, Massachusetts, was arrested Friday on charges he conspired to extort $600,000 from at least four business owners in exchange for official letters needed to obtain a license to set up marijuana operations, according to federal authorities.

Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia’s chief of staff was arrested on similar charges, according to a tweet from the FBI’s Boston office. Two others are also charged in the case.

“Without hesitation, Mayor Correia was extorting marijuana vendor after marijuana vendor,” Andrew Lelling, U.S. attorney for Massachusetts, said at a news conference after the mayor’s arrest.

In one instance, Lelling said, Correia walked into a vendor’s office and simply asked for $250,000 to issue one of the letters. On another occasion, Correia was paid $75,000 in cash while sitting in the back seat of a car.

The FBI and the IRS were involved in the investigation.

Last month, the FBI said it was investigating corruption in the legal marijuana market.

In a separate case, Correia is accused of stealing investor funds to bankroll a lavish lifestyle.

Correia pleaded not guilty last October to a 13-count indictment charging him with defrauding investors and filing false tax returns.

A trial on those federal charges is slated to begin Feb. 24.

– Associated Press and Marijuana Business Daily