January 24, 2022

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How the FBI Brought Down One of the Youngest Mayors Ever

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty
Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast / Photo Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe via Getty

The new streaming platform Quibi prides itself on brevity. Videos are designed for mobile viewing and are no more than ten minutes long—“quick bites,” as it were. Run This City, a 10-part documentary on the platform, which launched on April 6, is a familiar tale of local political scandal meets true crime, but in micro-segments. At its center is former Fall River, Massachusetts, mayor, the charismatic, fast-talking Jasiel Correia, who happens to bear a striking resemblance to the Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal.

Correia was elected at 23 years old in 2015, re-elected in a landslide in 2017, and then arrested by the FBI twice while in office for accusations of wire fraud and filing false tax returns (he was released on $250,000 bail). The charges are based on a local business geotargeting app Correia founded called SnoOwl, and claims that he defrauded investors in the company by spending the money they put into the company on personal items. Correia, who has been promoting the documentary on social media, admits that SnoOwl never made any money, but is adamant about his innocence. (His incumbent opponent in the 2012 race, former Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, appears in the documentary, too, as a foreshadowing voice on the side of law enforcement.)

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I only saw three very short, episodes of Run This City, which catalogued several (perhaps conspiracy) theories about what went down with Correia’s mayorship and subsequent fallout, held by various mayors and townspeople of Fall River, including Correia himself. The docuseries is fast, fun, and full of provincial intrigue if you don’t take a second to think about what any of it means for the townspeople or why Correia has so eagerly participated in a documentary that positions him as at worst corrupt and at best a fool. Speaking with Correia over the phone (with two members of Quibi’s PR team on the line), I was struck by just how much his documentary performance matched his interview one: The charming former mayor had a strong hold on his own narrative and gave long, multi-part anecdotal answers to any kind of question posed.

When I asked Correia if he saw the link between his focus on entrepreneurship as a mayor and the current president’s obsession with cutting deals with corporations in the middle of a pandemic, he was eager to talk about the life force of business tactics. “When I ran as mayor—I was a city councilor already—I had my own business,” he answered. “I love this community [of Fall River], and I just felt I could bring a different way of looking at city government.” He told me that a big part of the “changes” he brought to Fall River was a “customer service” approach to the community, with civil servants and community workers smiling and chatting instead of having a cold demeanor of officialdom.

So what does that mean if the business acumen that paved the way for your customer-friendly governance is accused of illegitimacy, I wondered? I wasn’t as concerned with the “true crime” aspect of the documentary’s lingering question over whether Correia was indeed a successful businessman or a fraud, but why Correia felt he was uniquely equipped to serve in government as the founder of an unprofitable app.

In fact, Correia’s rise preceded Trump’s by several years, and perhaps links more directly to the influence of Silicon Valley’s major personalities as unstoppable influences on American cities. Uber, Lyft, WeWork (which imploded in spectacular fashion only for its shady CEO, Adam Neumann, to receive a huge payout), Amazon, Airbnb, and more have gentrified cities and towns while leaving workers or “independent contractors” over-leveraged and unsupported; still, their leaders seem to think the popularity of their businesses translates to a kind of policy expertise as they constantly swerve half-hearted government regulation for some concocted, manipulated public “good.”

Like these Silicon Valley operators, Correia claims he’s always followed the letter of the law, as far as it officially reaches. He says that SnoOwl never had any investors, per se, but promissory debt holders—meaning there are no shares, but debt notes—and that his debtors could have sued him to collect, but simply didn’t. Correia is accused of swindling some hundreds of thousands of dollars from his debtors, but when I mentioned Neumann, he asserted that it was absurd he was getting in trouble while the former WeWork CEO, who rented out his own buildings to his own company to turn a profit, was now sitting pretty with close to a billion dollars.

Neumann, however, has not yet used his riches to run for government (though former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, who did turn huge profits on his businesses, and continues to, ran an unsuccessful Democratic presidential primary campaign off his own fortune this year). “The optics of it don’t necessarily affect me in the private world that I’m in,” Correia explained as I tried to understand what effect starring in a documentary about his own crimes would have on his impending trial. “I’m not [mayor] anymore.”

In fact, Correia ran again for re-election in November 2019, but lost. His Fall Rivers mayorship only ended very recently, on January 6 of this year. It seems that the documentary’s intervention may have come too late. Correia told me he doesn’t “have expectations at this point” about what Run This City will achieve, but insists that he had “lasting effects [as mayor] that nobody can take away” from him. In our brief talk, it was hard to tease out what those lasting effects may have been beyond “customer service.” Perhaps the final seven 10-minute episodes of the series will offer answers, or maybe that’s a whole other story—according to The Herald News, the judge for Correia’s now-delayed trial is worried the release of Run This City could taint the jury.

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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