WEST HAVEN, Conn. — State Rep. Michael DiMassa of West Haven was arrested Wednesday morning after he was accused of stealing more than $600,000 in COVID-19 relief funds.
DiMassa, a Democrat representing House District 116, was charged with one count of wire fraud in connection to a federal investigation into the alleged misuse of CARES Act funds given to the city of West Haven. Official allege DiMassa stole more than $636,000.
DiMassa also worked for the city of West Haven as an administrative assistant to the city council.
In a federal criminal complaint, officials allege DiMassa and another unnamed person formed Compass Investment Group, LLC in January 2021. They said an investigation into a bank account with Webster Bank for the investment group showed that seven checks from the city were made payable to the group.
The payment vouchers were submitted for payment by the city's "COVID-19 Grant Department" for alleged consulting work done for the health department. The checks ranged from $11,000 to more than $87,000.
The money was then withdrawn by DiMassa, according to an arrest warrant.
Additionally, records at Mohegan Sun Casino found that DiMassa bought nearly $14,000 in chips.
"According to the West Haven Corporation Counsel, the West Haven Health Director never used, selected, approved, or otherwise engaged Compass Investment Group for any work or services concerning the West Haven Public Health Department," the arrest warrant said.
Between February and September 2021, a total of $636,783.70 was paid to Compass Investment Group by the city of West Haven.
West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi issued the following statement Wednesday:
“I want to commend the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on its speedy investigation and arrest of Rep. Michael A. DiMassa. If Representative DiMassa broke the public’s trust and his oath to protect and serve his constituents and is found guilty of fraudulent activity, I am demanding that he and any other individual(s) involved be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If convicted, all individuals involved should go to jail. As I stated when I found and reported this probable fraudulent activity, I will update our residents when information becomes available and when its release will not compromise the ongoing investigation.”
The news of DiMassa's charges come a week after Rossi said an investigation was underway by the mayor’s office over the possible “improper” and “fraudulent” use of federal COVID-19 relief funds.
In a video message posted to the city’s website, Rossi said reviews of the city's federal CARES Act expenditures uncovered several large ones that caused her “great concern.”
“Some of these expenditures appear improper and maybe potentially fraudulent,” she added. “As a certified public accountant, it is my ethical and professional responsibility to disclose this issue to our residents as we move forward with a thorough investigation and audit.”
Rossi said West Haven received $1.2 million from the federal CARES Act in 2020 to help the city recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas released a joint statement after DiMassa's arrest.
Elected officials are rightly held to a high standard of conduct and trust. Even the slightest hint of wrongdoing bruises that trust.
We have significant concerns about Rep. DiMassa’s arrest but we don’t have information on the charges or additional details. We will be monitoring this story closely to see when and if more facts emerge. In the meantime, we are immediately removing Rep. DiMassa from all committee and leadership assignments.
House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora released the following statement:
“While I’m hopeful that the disturbing allegations against Representative DiMassa in West Haven are a one-off, this case should be a wakeup call to the governor and the public at large. A staggering amount of federal relief funds has flowed into Connecticut, and the governor has taken advantage of every opportunity to trumpet all the new programs and grants made possible by these funds and tout the overall positive impact this money can have on our state and its residents. But with such a large amount of federal money comes tremendous responsibility, and we’ve reached a critical juncture where it’s not only time for residents to demand accountability and look beyond the governor’s press releases, but for the governor himself to do his part to meet the public halfway and explain exactly how he’ll measure the success of his own initiatives and what his administration is doing to track whether funds provided to various entities are being used appropriately.”
Gov. Ned Lamont says the Office of Policy and Management will oversee a forensic audit.
"We will look at West Haven and we will look beyond if we need to look beyond," Lamont said. "I want to give people confidence that this money is being invested appropriately and not siphoned off."
"I’m really not gonna comment on the case," DiMassa's attorney John Gulash said. "It would be inappropriate at this time."
The matter has been continued until a preliminary hearing, scheduled for December 10. DiMassa faces one count of wire fraud and up to 20 years in prison.
A West Haven city council resolution last December gave him and the city's Finance Director oversight of West Haven's COVID19 relief funds.
"I thought there was enough checks and balances, however I was wrong and all I can say is 'I am sorry, like I am very sorry,'" West Haven City Councilwoman Bridgette Hoskie added.\
DiMassa was elected in November 2016. According to his biography on the state's website, he serves as Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee and as a member of the Judiciary Committee and Executive & Legislative Nominations Committee.
Doug Stewart is a digital content producer at FOX61 News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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