WSAR NEWS Archives for 2019-06

The Trial Of Jasiel F. Correia II Is Set - February 24, 2020

The trial of Fall River Mayor Jasiel Correia II has been set for February 24, 2020. 


Mayor Correia was arrested on October 11 last year and charged with defrauding investors and using the money to fund what U.S Attorney Andrew Lelling terms as a “lavish lifestyle and burgeoning politcal career.”


The investment was for an app created by Correia called SnoOwl where he is alleged to have used $231,447 of the $363,690 he received from the seven lenders for personal airfare, luxury hotels, adult entertainment, dating services, designer clothes and a Mercedes.


A pre-trial conference this week that lasted all of five minutes at the Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston featured Correia’s defense-team minus the Fall River Mayor. The date was agreed to by both sides.


Somerset-based Attorney Steve Sabra, the host of Law Talk on WSAR, explained what to expect from both sides in the coming eight months.


"There was maybe 18,000 pages of discovery,” he said. “So, now you have to narrow it down and decide what you'll use for your case and what you won't. Both sides will also have to figure out what witnesses they'll present. From the prosecution standpoint, they have to decide what witnesses they'll use to prove each element of each charge beyond a reasonable doubt.”


On the defense’s side they may not use any witnesses in their case. 


“The defense has to decide how they will cross-examine each of the witnesses,” Sabra explained. “They'll also decide what documents they may want to use in support of their theory of the case and ultimately who they will use as witnesses, if anyone."


The Somerset-based attorney said he was surprised by the timing of this trial date. 


"I did expect it to be a bit sooner,” Sabra told WSAR. “My thought process was that it would be before the end of the year. My basis for thinking that was because the arraignment was in October of 2018. I would think they would generally want to try the case within a year of arraignment.” 


Sabra went on to explain another reason why he didn’t expect to see a trial date in 2020.


“I also noted that they excluded some of the time under the calculations for a speedy trial,” he said. “In other words, there are rules of a case having to be brought to trial in a certain period of time. But they can also consider part of the time that a case as pending as excludable time. They did that in this case."


Mayor Correia has pulled nomination papers to run for re-election and a third term as the mayor of Fall River. WSAR asked Sabra how the timing of the case would play a role in the upcoming election process


"In a way, he is fortunate because the trial won't be until the end of February and the election is at the beginning of November,” he responded “He won't have that distraction and the necessity to heavily prepare in lets say October or early November.”


Sabra did say at the end of his response he expects it to still be a distraction as well as an issue for voters and even his opponents. 


Correia’s defense team will have until August 9 to file any motions while the government will have until August 30 to respond. 

Cathy Ann Viveiros & Last Week's Budget Hearings

Last week, the Fall River Municipal Budget was passed.


One of the largest single increases from last year’s budget to this year’s is over the concern of e-mail software and servers that are being secured to allow for the retention of emails, complying with Commonwealth statute.


The City Administrator, Cathy Ann Viveiros told council during last week’s series of budget hearings new platforms for the servers would have to be secured.


"We're in the process of still trying to determine the police department's ability to be compliant with the public records statute,” she said. “There's a possibility that all of the police patrol are going to have to migrate to a more expensive platform which would be the Exchange Platform.”


Viveiros explained it’s necessary even if it seems costly.


“It allows for complete maintenance of all the former e-mails generated,” she told the council. “The estimate for that is almost $50,000 for just one single department.”  


The final line item number for public school transportation will be revealed later this Summer, as the city works with various providers to strike their $9.3 million goal, down from the original figure of over $11 million.


Fall River’s City Administrator also discussed the addition of over 60 positions on the school department side as well as one that won’t be added on the municipal side.


“Last year, I had under other personal services an anticipated creation of a tourism director,” Viveiros explained. "That position was not approved in ordinance so it is not apart of this year’s budget.”


A new grant writer position who will work for both the municipal and school department sides will likely be filled at some point this upcoming Summer.  

A Potential Salary Hike For Elected Officials In Fall River

At this weeks series of budget hearings the idea of a salary hike for various elected officials in Fall River was suggested. City Council Member Steve Camara proposed to enact it for the 2020 members next year.


"Another thing of concern to me is the rather meager pay we give our elected officials, particularly school committee members, city councilors and the mayor,” Camara pointed out. “I know that my colleague in seat two thought we should have a sentiment of the council as to whether or not we'd like to see this addressed.”


The city councilor made sure to note this was not a premeditated proposal.


“We reviewed the charter during the break and found that the council has the authority to rescind the freeze but it has to be done within the first 18 months,” Camara said. “Some would think this has been orchestrated but clearly there wasn't because none of us realized what time frame was."


Council Member Shawn Cadime added on to Camara’s point and explained that he’s in favor of the motion because he believes the mayors salary at the present is not enough for that position in the city.


"The reason I'm going to support this is more for the mayor's position,” he said. :When we look at the challenges we have to get people to run for the office of mayor, that position pays $118,000 and not take anything away but the town administrator is making close to $25,000 more.”


Councilor Cadime continued to explain it’s not about the position of town administrator or the duties involved but instead the allure of the position of mayor and how attractive it would be to those with credible business backgrounds


“I understand the town administrator does more of the day-to-day functions with the departments,” he said. “When we start looking at the complexity of the city and you start looking at CEO's in charge of those types of budgets of millions of dollars, you won't get anyone with any type of business background or real credentials to come in and take the 24/7 job requirements at a salary of $118,000."


The motion ultimately passed by a 6-3 margin with Council President Cliff Ponte along with Councilors Leo Pelletier and Joseph Camara rejecting it.

Steve Camara Talks Cannabis Revenue

During this week of budget hearings in Fall River, the topic of revenue has been discussed and debated as much as anything else with the nine-member city council.


A discussion between council member Steve Camara and Chief Financial Officer Mary Sahady pointed out how cannabis dollars has balanced the numbers.


"The point is that the cash cow of this budget is cannabis..." Camara observed.


"That's correct, in terms of local dollars received," Sahady replied.


Camara told his fellow council members, "as we progress towards making decisions we need to be reminded this is what the people voted for - to legalize marijuana."


A resolution to limit the number of locations that dispense cannabis to eight still exists. Camara doesn’t believe this is necessary.


"I know the council is reviewing and considering putting a false cap on the distribution of licenses,” he said. “I think, unless there's a problem, lets not find a solution to a problem that does not exist."


The council member said cannabis is providing the necessary revenue to replace what was lost when the Pay-As-You-Throw Program was terminated earlier in 2019.


"I encourage you to send back an opportunity for us to increase our budget through revenue that's now available to us," he asked.


The $2.3 million in lost revenue when the Pay-As-You-Throw Era ended is being replaced in part by nearly $2 million in cannabis impact fees.


The market remains wide open in this part of New England as Rhode Island lawmakers have already decided to not legalize cannabis for at least another year while New York and Connecticut refuse to legalize.


There is no law against purchasing recreational cannabis with an out-of-state ID though it is still illegal under federal law to transport the drug across state lines.

Budget Hearings Commenced This Week

Budget hearings commenced Tuesday evening in Government Center and will continue throughout the week.


It’s likely a budget at 101% of net school spending will be approved by the Fall River City Council.


Chief Operating Officer Ken Pacheco discussed the lack of transportation contracts with the nine members and was asked this by Council Vice President Pam La-Libertie Lebeau.


"As for the transportation, I know we rescinded and just went out for a new bid. Do you know when we'll have those answers?"


Pacheco responded, "The bids will be due July 11th, if I'm not mistaken."


"Are we in any danger of not being ready for the beginning of the school year?" Lebeau inquired.


"If that schedule stays as is we're looking to have all awards in hand for August 1 after we do our due diligence and following the process of getting contract signatures. We're looking at August 1st," Pacheco answered.


At a charter-mandated session earlier in the year a placeholder number of $11.9 million for transportation costs was discussed. That figure was whittled down to $10.1 million but the city would like to see it closer to $9.3 million in fiscal year 2020.


In other news from the first budget hearing, Superintendent of Fall River Public Schools Doctor Matthew Malone indicated the district observed an important milestone over the Spring.


"We've tripled secondary language learners in three years,” he told the City Council. “The list, last week, was the first time in Fall River Public School history that we're now a majority minority school system.”


Malone said the numbers were essentially reversed.


“We flipped from 52-48 to 48-52,” he explained. “The largest of our second language speakers are Latino with most coming from Puerto Rico. We are also receiving large numbers of kids from Central and South America, as well."


Dr. Malone continued on talking about the overall budget figure of $160,662,776 approved by the School Committee earlier in the Spring and how the Governor influences it.


"In my third year of doing this, I propose a budget based on the Governors numbers - not at 100% but 101% of net school spending,” he explained. “It's important we're above the minimum foundation to fund schools. Each year, we take the same path forwards based on the Governor's Budget."


Depending on the final budget that incorporates proposals from both the Massachusetts House and the Senate, that figure could become larger when the Massachusetts budget for fiscal year 2020 later this Summer.

M.B.T.A and MassDOT Agree To New 5-Year Capital Investment Plan

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors along with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s Fiscal Management and Control Board voted to approve a 5-year, $18-billion Capital Investment Plan for fiscal years 2020 through 2024.


This plan includes a $1 billion increase over the last 5-year C.I.P.


It will include all MassDOT road and bridge projects, public use airports, rail and transit including the M.B.T.A and Regional Transit Authorities as well as the Registry of Motor Vehicles.


South Coast Rail is one of the items involved in the new plan with one billion dollars going towards the project. It will include rail service between Fall River, New Bedford and Boston’s South Station.


Other things included in the new C.I.P over the next five fiscal years includes full funding for phase one construction and service for the Middleborough route.


This covers over 37 miles of track and right of way upgrades along with 6 new commuter rail stations, 2 overnight layover facilities and reconstruction of 28 grade crossing, 14 bridges and 63 culverts.


The orange and red lines will get $1.5 billion for improvements funded through the new five year plan which includes 400 new vehicles. The green line will receive $1.3 billion is also included.

New School Bell Schedule In Fall River

At a recent Fall River School Committee session, the school bell schedule in the Fall River Public School District was approved to be changed for five different schools.


The new start and end times allow for bus tiering, minimizing the number of buses in the district and saving costs on school transportation.


Here is a link to the updated start & end times for the Fall River Public School District:


Superintendent Doctor Matthew Malone said Durfee and Spencer Borden had to stay at their original times.


"Because of the construction at the high school with Durfee and Spencer Borden being right next to each other and with the movement of the high school to get to that specific point we wanted to move them back to their original point.”


Malone explained the time allotted would be nearly impossible


“It’s not feasible because there's essentially a four minute window between the pick up at both schools at the end of the day,” he said. “That would be hugely problematic with the construction."


The Superintendent of schools said this can be re-visited for Durfee and Spencer Borden once the new school is finished.


“In two years, after the new high school is built I'll come back to the committee with a recommendation at that time again," he told the committee.


One school that did adjust times is Doran but it didn’t come without its struggles.


"We really had a hard time trying to work on Doran,” Malone said. “We were able to get to a place where we shaved thirteen minutes off the start time. It's the best we could possibly do. We're only talking about three buses that aren't even full at Doran."


Start and end times could be adjusted depending on what happens with a final transportation schedule once bids are secured and contracts signed.

Cannabis Sales Revenue Could Surpass NFL in 2019

Legal cannabis revenue is growing faster and greater than expected. By next year, it could be bringing in more money than the entire National Football League.


According to a new report from the Marijuana Business Factbook, revenue from both medicinal and legal recreational sales from cannabis fell between $8.6 and $10 billion.


That figure is more than the revenue of Goldfish Crackers, the video game Fortnite and e-cigarettes combined. It even rivals the sales of Taco Bell’s annual revenue.


It’s estimated by next year cannabis sales will surpass the projected $15 billion in annual revenue generated by the NFL.


Jim Borghesani was the communications director for Yes On 4, a movement pushing for the legalization of cannabis in the Commonwealth back in 2016. He told WSAR News advocates have known this level of revenue would be possible.


"I think there’s a sense of being confident in the accuracy of the numbers we were talking about both in Massachusetts and nationally, as well,” he explained. “We always claimed with factual basis that cannabis will be a good cash crop, if you will.”


According to the report from the Marijuana Business Factbook, by the end of 2023 cannabis sales could exceed the collective spending Americans pay for gym memberships.


Borghesani knows this number can grow with the potential of the black market which is still utilized. It’s estimated the numbers would be between $50 and $60 billion dollars if those numbers were included with legal sales numbers.  


“Taking cannabis away from illegal dealers and putting it in the hands of responsible business people who check ID’s would generate new income for towns and states.”


Roughly 20 percent of adults use some form of cannabis for pain management, therapy or recreationally with that number only growing. As more states legalize, the discouragement of the cannabis versus alcohol for example will fade away.


Borghesani says cannabis has and will always be apart of our culture. It makes no sense to recognize that.


“It seems silly to me to not recognize cannabis is in our society and will always be in our society, he said. “It always has been. To make it legal, give it the same consumer protections, safety and accesses that other substances like alcohol and tobacco have is a wise move for society.”


According to the report, legal cannabis will create a boost for this years economy somewhere between $39 and $48 billion with the potential to surpass the $100 billion mark in 2023.  

Firefighter Memorial At Kennedy Park On Sunday

A gathering is set for Sunday morning at Kennedy Park in Fall River at 8:45 a.m. at the Firefighter Memorial in the area to honor the lives of retired firefighters who lost their lives in 2018.


The ceremony is part of an annual nationwide day of remembrance of those who died in active duty or after retirement. Fire Chief John Lynch says the six to be honored this weekend lived well into their 90’s and really beat the odds in regards to the life expectancy of a firefighter.


“That was an extraordinary amount carcinogens those guys took in at that time,” he said. “It's amazing that those guys survived this long. The average age for anybody right now that retires usually lasts 8 to 9 years - believe it or not."


Lynch recognized those men as part of one of the greatest generations of firefighters who had to do the job in much tougher circumstances.


"The way they would put a fire would be bringing the hose line into the building and hang low to the floor,” he said. “They would be sucking in smoke. But they would still put those fires out.”


Fall River’s Fire Chief continued to these group of guys were an anomaly.


"They're really an exception to the rule to live that long because all of those older guys were firefighters before we had breathing apparatus and high-tech equipment,” Lynch explained. “Back in the day, we'd call them smoke-eaters."


Sunday morning’s ceremony at Kennedy Park is open to the public.

A Conversation With Ken Fiola

The Executive Vice President of the Bristol County Economic Development Consultants joined WSAR and discussed the severed relationship from late last year between his group and the Fall River RDA Board.


"Since 2017, there's no secret the mayor had been trying to terminate the contract between the redevelopment authority and ourselves,” Ken Fiola said. “He needed to get the proper board members on there to do so. When you hire city employees like Bob Smith, the harbormaster and Kara O'Connell the assistant harbormaster there may be some more control over those board members."


Fiola went on to say the relationships on the current RDA Board are in need of examination.  


"The fact that Mr. Smith is a city employee puts him in a compromised position,” he said. “He's repeatedly said at least at the last meeting if not before that - that he's personally being sued by me. That's a total inaccurate statement."


A lingering issue between the former F.R.O.E.D (Fall River Office of Economic Development) and the Fall River RDA was the issue of a shipment of gravel utilized at the city pier without authorization - which has become a hot button topic in the last few weeks in Fall River.


"It consisted of a potential payback of the cost overrun by the engineer who allowed the gravel to be brought to the site and utilized without a change order,” Fiola explained. “There were a lot of things on the table such as discussions to how we're going to address the gravel issue. But let us be clear, the fact of the matter remains that this was an unauthorized change order."


The RDA is now saying a portion of the gravel may have to be removed in order for a non-permeable material like asphalt to be laid on a portion of the pier. But Fiola says members of the board need to accept responsibility for their role in city ier issues.


"As they get side tracked with things such as the city pier, they're looking for somebody else to blame,” he said. “This was explained to them last Fall in terms of what they could and couldn't do along the city pier but that doesn't seem to have any bearing on their ability accept responsibility."


The RDA’s newly hired Economic Development Director will begin duties in July while a lawsuit over the severing of the consulting contract with the board and former F.R.O.E.D is in the legal queue this Spring.

Paul Coogan Hands In Signatures For Certification

The first mayoral contender for the city’s upcoming  primary election in the Fall turned in the necessary signatures for certification in the Elections Division in Government Center.


Fall River School Committee Member and the runner-up in the Fall River recall election in March, Paul Coogan is running because he believes voters are looking for more efficient government.


"I think people are ready for a change,” he said. “That's why we're running. I think Fall River can definitely be operated more efficiently than it is right now and there is a climate for people to work together to push this city in one direction."


Coogan has learned from the recall election earlier in the year he and his team need to reach out to voters in Southside precincts.


"We obviously did better in some of the wards closer to my house but we will focus on some of the wards in the South End - one, two and three,” he said. “I want to work a little harder down there. The voters told us they want to see us more down there so we'll be around."


The mayoral contender and school committee member believe the two sides along with the city council need to do a better job at working together to do right by the city.


"The city council, the school committee and the mayor's office should be like a three-party organization running the city,” Coogan said. “Right now, I don't think there's a lot going on among those groups. We're doing the best we can on the school committee side and I know the councilors are as well. And I assume the mayor is, too. But there's not a lot of cohesion."


Former City Council President Linda Pereira took her nomination papers on Tuesday for an opportunity to return to the council. She’s one of 17 contenders for the nine positions while four people are in contention for the six School Committee seats.

Jim Borghesani And Cannabis In The Commonwealth

Fall River has 11 letters of non-opposition currently issued for prospective legal cannabis facilities and is currently waiting on the process of the state’s Cannabis Control Commission.


In Oregon, a six-year supply of cannabis remains an issue for the state as they try to sell the surplus of product or re-purpose by other means.


WSAR News spoke to the Spokesperson for ‘Yes on 4,’ the initiative that led to the legalization of Cannabis in the Commonwealth. Jim Borghesani explained that Massachusetts has the ability in the legislation to set limits on the amount of product produced.


"It's a lesson learned (for Oregon) and it's a lesson already learned in Massachusetts,” he said. “In the ballot initiative in the subsequent legislation they gave the power to the Cannabis Control Commission to observe the yield and set limits based on if they see a glut of product and too much entering the marketplace."


Borghesani said Massachusetts will probably never have the problems Oregon have because of the built-in controls it has already established. He told WSAR no other legalized state has experienced this surplus issue.


"We haven’t seen a repeat of Oregon in any other legalized state,” he said. “If you can't transport over state lines you're stuck with all that product and they have a very big dilemma on their hands."  


The ‘Yes on 4’ Spokesperson said he believes municipalities across the legalized states are learning demand for cannabis is greater than originally thought and is producing more revenue than expected.


"I think Massachusetts will have the market to itself for quite a while,” Borghesani said. “Every facility that is open is generating more revenue than the towns had anticipated so it’s working pretty much the way the backers of legalization would work."


Northeast Alternatives is currently the only recreational cannabis dispensary open in the city of Fall River.

Rep. Paul Schmid & South Coast Rail

WSAR News talked with Bristol Eighth District State Representative Paul Schmid about the future of South Coast Rail and the greater problem of a lack of public transportation here in the local area.


Rep. Schmid reiterated multiple times he is concerned about the price tag on the various mechanical issue fixes to the T in Boston, estimated between $10-15 million and how that impacts the South Coast.


He said it’s important to make sure money does not get lost on us because of the project sixty miles north.


"We all know funding that will take money away from the transportation investment we need down here,” the Bristol representative said. “We're pretty certain the South Coast Rail is being adequately funded and will begin in 2022. That's not the only one of our transportation needs down here though."


Schmid added that its magnified by lack of a regional bus service in the area modeling the same hours available as in Boston. The eighth district representative told WSAR the limited operation of hours the bus service offers constricts economic development.


“The bus service stops at 6 p.m. and not in service on Sundays,” he said. “How can we hope to get our young people working if they can't get to work for a night shift or on a Sunday?"


In Fall River, the bus routes to B.C.C, Swansea and a few other key locations end at 9 p.m. on weeknights and after 6:30 p.m. on Saturdays. Currently, there is an experimental service implemented earlier in the year adding hours to the Stafford Road route and another one in New Bedford.


"We need more public transportation here on the South Coast,” Rep. Schmid said. “When we start hearing the numbers about what it's going to cost to fix the T, I worry about what's going to be left for us down here. We're going to keep fighting on that front - we have to."


A version of South Coast Rail is planned to start in 2022.