What has David Correia gotten himself into?
How did the former by-the-books restaurant manager from Manayunk find himself entangled in an alleged international conspiracy swirling around the Donald Trump impeachment inquiry?
Why did Correia join forces with now-indicted associates of Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor and the president’s personal attorney?
That’s what Correia’s old friends and business partners from Philadelphia are asking themselves this week. So far, they have few answers.
“Some crazy s—,” said Brendan McGrew, the owner of Bourbon Blue in Manayunk, who worked with Correia when he was the general manager there in the mid-2000s.
McGrew has been fielding phone calls and texts since Correia was indicted last week for allegedly conspiring with associates of Giuliani to help a foreign national with “Russian roots” break into the U.S. recreational marijuana market.
Correia, 44, who now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., with his wife, was taken into custody Wednesday by FBI agents at Kennedy International Airport after returning from a trip to the Middle East. He pleaded not guilty Thursday in New York federal court to one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States. He is out on $250,000 bond.
Two of the Giuliani associates named in the indictment, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, have been tied to the attempts to gather political dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden in Ukraine. House committees running the impeachment inquiry have subpoenaed Parnas and Fruman.
Back in the Philadelphia area, those who knew Correia from the restaurant business have been reading news accounts and trying to comprehend how he found his way into a shadowy world of international intrigue, from the food page of The Inquirer to the front page of the New York Times.
“He was just a straitlaced, by-the-book guy,” said Sean Glynn, a former partner with Correia at Agave Grille & Cantina in Ambler. “I can’t see him doing illegal stuff. He’s kind of a square dude. At least, he was when I knew him.”
“I never thought he was that bright, either,” Glynn added. “This sounds like a really complicated scheme. So, I don’t know.”
Specifically, Correia is charged with conspiring with Parnas, Fruman, and a fourth man, Andrey Kukushkin, to illegally funnel campaign contributions from an unnamed foreign national to government officials in Nevada and elsewhere in an effort to obtain retail marijuana licenses for a future business venture.
They took steps to hide the foreign donor’s identity due to, in Kukushkin’s words, “his Russian roots and current political paranoia about it,” the indictment states. It is illegal for foreign nationals to make contributions or donations in connection with federal, state, or local elections in the United States.
But Correia has been involved with Parnas since at least 2012 and with him co-founded a firm called Fraud Guarantee, which reportedly paid Giuliani $500,000 as an adviser.
Correia, who describes himself on Fraud Guarantee’s website as a former professional golfer, apparently has also been involved with other ventures with Parnas and Fruman.
The Miami Herald reported this month that over the summer Correia phoned a New Jersey couple on behalf of Parnas, who owed the couple $500,000 over a failed movie deal.
“He said the Ukrainians were upset because we were ‘a dangling participle’ and we needed to make a deal to make them go away,” Dianne Pues told the newspaper, referring to Correia. “He said we no longer knew who we were dealing with and that the Ukrainians had ties all the way up to the State Department and the White House and they were partners with Rudy Giuliani.”
The “Ukrainians,” according to the Miami Herald, were Parnas and Fruman.
Glynn, Correia’s former restaurant partner, said he found it strange that Correia was mingling with Giuliani associates who were seeking to help Trump politically. Glynn described Correia, a 1993 graduate of Attleboro High School in Massachusetts, as a “Kennedy liberal” when he lived in Philadelphia.
At some point, that appears to have changed. Days after Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Correia responded to a tweet from Biden, who had written that it was an honor to serve as vice president.
“i assume the day your son took his position in Ukraine was also a great moment?” Correia tweeted at Biden on Jan. 22, 2017, referring to his son, Hunter. “I have a feeling that chapter isn’t closed.”
“Thinking this will not age well,” another person responded last week. Correia’s account has since been deactivated.
Correia’s attorney, William Harrington, could not be reached for comment Friday.
McGrew, the Bourbon Blue owner, said Correia fell off the map for a couple of years after moving to Florida in his early 30s. A photo of Correia with Trump earlier this year made him curious.
“I was thinking, ‘I wonder what he’s doing, what business he’s running or investing in?’ ” McGrew said. The indictment, he said, is perplexing: “These guys seem to be a little bit on the shady side."
John Dozier, who has a business servicing medical devices in Gloucester County, N.J., got to know Correia at Bourbon Blue and invested in Agave Grille & Cantina.
Dozier has tracked Correia’s online claims about himself over the years and has been amused by his bluster. On the Fraud Guarantee website, for example, Correia describes himself as having been “intimately engaged in the Philadelphia residential real estate market as an investor.”
But the only time his name comes up on Philadelphia property records is on a $72,500 rowhouse he bought in 2008 together with a partner and the partner’s mother, and held for four years.
His claims to have been a successful restaurant mogul seem to be exaggerated, Dozier said.
“As far as Dave’s business acumen goes, I don’t think that he has any,” Dozier said. “I’m surprised he’d gotten as far as he did.”
When Agave sold in 2007, Dozier never got his share of the proceeds and sued Correia and other participants in the deal. He said he’s still owed about $40,000.
Of Correia’s indictment, Dozier didn’t mince words.
“Karma is a bitch,” he said.
Inquirer staff writer Michael Klein contributed to this article.