HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A Connecticut state legislator who works as an aide to the West Haven City Council is accused of creating a company that received more than $600,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funds for services that were never provided.
Rep. Michael DiMassa, a Democrat, was arrested by FBI agents on Tuesday morning and charged with wire fraud. He appeared in federal court in New Haven and was later released on a $250,000 bond. The lawmaker's arrest comes a week after the city's mayor raised concerns about possible fraudulent spending of the city's share of federal pandemic funds.
The arrest prompted calls from legislative Republicans for greater state oversight of the huge sums of federal money being provided to municipalities.
”These funds are intended to help residents and communities recover during one of the most challenging times of a generation,” wrote state Sens. Kevin Kelly and Paul Formica, the top two GOP senators, in a letter to Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont's budget director.
DiMassa, 30, formed Compass Investment Group LLC. in January with another individual, who was not named in an arrest affidavit unsealed Tuesday. Records show the entity was paid $636,783 by the city of West Haven, from February through September, for hundreds of hours of various COVID-19-related services, including lobbying, consulting and site work for clinics, despite never providing any services to the city's public health department, according to the affidavit.
The legislator wrote checks to himself ranging in value from $11,847.50 to $87,650, and made cash withdrawals ranging from $8,000 to $10,000, bank records for Compass Investment Group show.
The dates of some cash withdrawals coincided with cash “buy-ins” of chips at Mohegan Sun Casino by DiMassa, according to the affidavit.
Last week, West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi posted a video on the city's YouTube page saying she had come across several large expenditures that might be fraudulent and had requested a forensic investigation of the city's spending of federal pandemic relief funds. A message was left seeking comment with the mayor, who is also a certified public accountant.
West Haven’s share of the $2.2 trillion in stimulus funding from the CARES Act has been more than $1.15 million so far, according to the state Office of Policy and Management.
The city's corporation counsel told federal investigators the West Haven Health Department “never used, selected, approved, or otherwise engaged Compass Investment Group for any work or services concerning the West Haven Public Health Department,” according to the affidavit.
DiMassa was first elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 2016, representing West Haven and New Haven. Upon the news of his arrest, Speaker of the House Matt Ritter and House Majority Leader Jason Rojas, both Democrats, announced they were immediately removing DiMassa from all committee and leadership assignments. The House vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee, DiMassa was sat on the Judiciary and Executive and Legislative Nominations Committees.
“Elected officials are rightly held to a high standard of conduct and trust. Even the slightest hint of wrongdoing bruises that trust,” Ritter and Rojas said in a joint statement.
A message was left seeking comment with DiMassa's attorney, John Gulash.
Kelly and Formica, the Republican state senators, called for audits of all municipalities by the Office of Policy and Management to ensure they're spending COVID-19 funds properly. The OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw said her agency is hiring an independent auditor and will cooperate with the federal probe. She said the agency previously ordered every municipality to report their spending by Oct. 22, warning they must withstand an audit.
DiMassa has been employed by the city of West Haven for approximately 12 years. The city's employee directory as an administrative assistant to the City Council, according to the affidavit. His legislative website says he works as a legislative aide to the West Haven City Council, as well as the Council's Clerk. He previously worked as an assistant to the mayor until 2013, before being appointed administrative aide to the West Haven Registrar of Voters.