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Former West Haven city employee pleads guilty in COVID relief fund scheme

John Bernardo, 66, of West Haven, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Credit: FOX61
West Haven City Hall

WEST HAVEN, Conn. — An associate in the scheme by a former Connecticut state representative to steal COVID relief funds from the city of West Haven pleaded guilty to his involvement in front of a federal judge Tuesday.

John Bernardo, 66, of West Haven, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

Bernardo was employed by the city of West Haven as a housing specialist in the office of the Community Development Administration, according to court documents.

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Bernardo and former Democratic Rep. Michael DiMassa formed Compass Investment Group, LLC in January 2021. The company fraudulently billed the city of West Haven and its COVID-19 Grant Department about a month later for consulting services provided to the West Haven Health Department that were not performed.

The city of West Haven paid the group a total of $636,783.70 between February and September 2021, and Bernardo got a portion of the funds, court documents state.

Officials said checks from Compass amounting to $45,227.25 were deposited in Bernardo's personal account.

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At the time of his arrest in November, the warrant stated that he was currently on leave from that position. 

Bernardo had originally entered a plea of "not guilty". His attorney, Gregory Cerritelli, told FOX61, "Mr. Bernardo has entered a guilty plea today and has unequivocally accepted responsibility for his conduct. The fact however is that Mr. Bernardo's responsibility pales in comparison to that of his codefendant. He changed his plea because he was anxious to close this chapter of his life and move on."  

As for whether Bernardo would cooperate with prosecutors in their case against DiMass and other defendants, Cerritelli said, "I could say with 100% certainty, John Bernardo has not and will not provide any information to the government."

DiMassa was arrested in October 2021 after he was accused of stealing more than $600,000 in COVID-19 relief funds. 

DiMassa, who formerly represented 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.

DiMassa, who also worked for the city of West Haven as an administrative assistant to the city council, resigned from both of his roles.  

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