In the spring of 2018, Brian Bairos was just another businessman looking for a way into Massachusetts’ marijuana industry. 

Bairos said he had an encouraging first meeting with the mayor before his follow-up calls went ignored. That’s when Bairos said he reached out to a colleague in the industry, who knew someone who knew someone in Jasiel Correia’s City Hall. 

A few introductions later, Bairos was face to face in a Dunkin’ Donuts with a man named Tony Costa, who promised signed approval letters for a marijuana dispensary from the mayor for a $150,000 fee.

“I thought he was crazy for the amount,” Bairos said in court last week. “I told him he was crazy.”

But Bairos agreed to pay as a way of protecting the investment he’d already made lining up 120,000 square feet of commercial space in Fall River.

“For that type of fee, you just pay it and move forward,” he said.

Bairos testified that Fall River’s 26-year-old mayor then invited him to dinner in Boston, where Bairos said the two confirmed the deal over cigars at a nearby bar.

Bairos was one of four marijuana vendors who testified last week about an alleged pay-to-play scheme Correia is accused of setting up to extort the city’s emerging marijuana industry. Two of Correia’s former associates took the stand to recall the alleged exchange with Bairos. 

Costa, the self-described middleman, said he left Bairos’ initial payment of $25,000 inside a shed between his house and the house of one of Correia’s most trusted aides at City Hall, Hildegar Camara.

During his own testimony, Camara said he called the mayor into his man cave to open the envelope he’d retrieved from the shed.

“I said, ‘If you take this or if I take this, we’re going to go to jail,” Camara recalled.

The aide claims he wiped the envelope for fingerprints and returned it to Costa, out of concern the $100 bills came from federal investigators who were already looking into alleged fraud at a startup the mayor founded before taking office. Camara said Correia had already accrued more than $400,000 in legal balls.

Costa testified that the mayor and his aide agreed to accept about a dozen pounds of Bairos’ marijuana in lieu of cash, which Costa planned to sell before sharing the proceeds.

“Bairos was trying to open in Fall River. Correia was looking for money, so I introduced that option,” said Costa.

Bairos claims the mayor met him later at the Tel Aviv cigar bar in Providence to discuss the arrangement.

So far, Correia is the only person in the alleged exchange who hasn’t testified. His attorney emphasized that the city issued the approval letters several days before Costa and Bairos claim they exchanged money. 

Bairos said he continued to make payments on the bribe because one of the approval letters included language that allowed Correia to revoke the agreement at any time. 

Charlie Saliby, a close friend of Bairos’ who sought to open his own dispensary in Fall River, testified that Bairos helped him arrange a separate $125,000 bribe with the mayor. In exchange for their testimony, Bairos and Saliby were granted cooperation agreements by the federal government that shields them from prosecution.

Bairos’ alleged bribe accounts for only two of the 24 charges against Correia that the jury is expected to deliberate on this week. The prosecution and defense are expected to make their closing arguments on Monday.

Ben Berke is the South Coast Bureau Reporter for The Public’s Radio. He can be reached at bberke@thepublicsradio.org.