Allegations are “absolutely made up nonsense”

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FALL RIVER – Fall River Mayor Paul Coogan comments on allegations made at a city council meeting Monday that his administration had established a “pay-to-play” process for marijuana agreement applications.

Marijuana business hopes Joseph and Stephanie Merkt told the council during a town hall meeting that they had been asked to pay a $ 50,000 filing fee – and they claimed the motion related to a city cannabis commission that doesn’t exist .

They also claimed that after waiting weeks for callbacks, the mayor’s office called back within an hour of the couple donating to their re-election campaign.

But Coogan answered many of the allegations during an appearance on Fall River Raw Tuesday afternoon calling the statements “absolutely made-up gibberish.”

The mayor said much of the confusion surrounding the Merkts’ motion was due to the city’s lack of a formal marijuana application process under disgraced former mayor Jasiel Correia.

Correia was sentenced to six years in prison last month on embezzlement and corruption charges, in part for soliciting bribes from marijuana companies.

“I inherited that,” Coogan told the group. “We had no trial, nothing.”

Describing the Merkts as the city’s “guinea pig” for a new application process, he stated that their business would have been the first marijuana hosting agreement since taking office.

The cannabis commission quoted in the filing doesn’t exist – yet – because it’s still in the works, Coogan said, although he named several officials he hopes will be on the commission.

Not on the list is Fall River character Ken Fiola, who, according to Coogan, would still consider candidates.

The mayor cited Fiola’s business acumen and experience as the reason his name appears on so many different projects around town.

“In the Fall River business world, he knows Ken inside out, whether you like him or not,” he said. “If I had ten more Ken Fiolas, I’d like to divide the work. But I haven’t.”

As for the huge fees for marijuana applications, Coogan said officials took other Massachusetts towns and cities as examples.

“We’re talking about $ 50,000 for companies like Sunnyside on Weaver Street or Northeast Alternatives,” he said. “These are multi-million dollar companies.”

“This money, this $ 50,000, goes straight to the city coffers with the tax that we get from it,” he added. “So this is a significant investment in the city of Fall River.”

As for Joseph Merkt, he said, “I’m going to send this guy back his lousy $ 200 for tickets he bought for my event. I don’t do anything in this town for money.”

Coogan told WBSM after the Fall River Raw appearance that allegations that he was pushing the process for any campaign donation were “ridiculous,” joking, “$ 250? This won’t make my life a little better!”

But much of the blame for the misunderstanding with the Merkts Coogan rests right on the shoulders of City Council President and candidate mayor Cliff Ponte.

“They happily left our office on Facebook pics and moved on to a phone call from the President of the Council alleging some kind of illegal activity,” Coogan said of the couple during his appearance.

He added that Ponte had also called them to last night’s city council meeting, which he called the “Cliff Ponte rally in the council chambers”.

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