New Haven-area State Rep. arrested by FBI for wire fraud
State Rep. Michael DiMassa (D-New Haven, West Haven) was arrested for allegedly defrauding West Haven of more than $600,000, which may have come from funds intended for COVID-19 relief. The Connecticut Office of Policy and Management has launched a statewide audit.
State Rep. Michael DiMassa (D-New Haven, West Haven) was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday morning for allegedly defrauding the City of West Haven of more than $600,000.
FBI Special Agent Christopher Cieplik filed a criminal complaint against DiMassa on Tuesday. The complaint alleges that in January, DiMassa established a business alongside another individual, who the complaint calls “Person 1,” named Compass Investment Group, LLC. On Feb. 5, according to Cieplik, the business established a bank account in Waterbury’s Webster Bank. Between Feb. 12 and April 30, seven checks were made payable to DiMassa’s company from the City of West Haven. DiMassa withdrew money from the bank 21 times, pocketing $178,150. Between February and September, according to Cieplik’s complaint, checks from the city to Compass Investment Group, LLC totaled $636,783.70. The invoices that requested the payment to the investment group “refer to services provided to ‘City of West Haven, Health Department.’”
But the West Haven Corporation Counsel claims that the West Haven Health Director “never used, selected, approved, or otherwise engaged” the company concerning the Health Department, Cieplik wrote. Officials are looking into whether the funds came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which provided over a million dollars in COVID-19 relief to West Haven. The Connecticut Office of Policy and Management has launched a statewide audit to investigate.
U.S. attorney Leonard Boyle, FBI Special Agent David Sundberg and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Special Agent Christina Scaringi announced the arrest in a Wednesday statement.
“It is further alleged that DiMassa made several large cash withdrawals from the Compass Investment Group LLC bank account, some of which were made shortly before or after he was recorded as having made a large cash ‘buy-in’ of gaming chips at the Mohegan Sun Casino,” the statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office reads.
DiMassa was charged with Wire Fraud and appeared in a federal court in New Haven late Wednesday morning, according to the federal officials. The representative, who has also served as an employee of the City of West Haven for 12 years, was released on a $250,000 bond.
In a statement to the News, New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker said DiMassa’s arrest “is very concerning and if true a deep violation of public trust.” Elicker noted that the state and federal government periodically conduct audits of the city’s municipal grants.
DiMassa and his media representative did not respond to requests for comment.
House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas released a statement shortly after noon on Wednesday. The representatives wrote that “we have significant concerns about Rep. DiMassa’s arrest but we don’t have information on the charges or additional details.”
“Elected officials are rightly held to a high standard of conduct and trust,” Ritter and Rojas said. “Even the slightest hint of wrongdoing bruises that trust… We will be monitoring this story closely to see when and if more facts emerge.”
DiMassa has been stripped of his Connecticut General Assembly committee assignments.
On Oct. 8, West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi told city residents via a press conference that she had been reviewing “many” of the city’s expenditures from the CARES Act.
“I have come across some large expenditures that cause me great concern,” Rossi said. “Some of these expenditures appear improper and may potentially be fraudulent.”
She added that the prospect that some of West Haven’s $1.2 million in CARES Act funding could be misused “sickens” her.
“If anyone is found guilty, they should go right to jail,” she said at the press conference.
Neither Cieplik’s complaint nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office statement mentions the CARES act. But according to CT Mirror, December 2020 West Haven City Council meeting minutes reveal that the council put DiMassa in charge of CARES Act funding. The Mirror also reported that the FBI visited West Haven City Hall on Oct. 8.
Rossi’s office could not be reached for comment by the News.
Following the West Haven allegations, Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly (R-Stratford) and Senate Republican Leader Pro Tempore Paul Formica (R-East Lyme) sent a letter to Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw requesting the state’s budget office to conduct audits of all Connecticut municipalities — which would include the Elm City.
“We ask that your office take immediate action to investigate the use of all relief funds across our state,” Kelly and Formica wrote to McCaw. “The allegations and possible misuse of funds are deeply troubling. These funds are intended to help residents and communities recover during one of the most challenging times of a generation. To learn that officials may have allegedly diverted funding for other purposes shatters public trust. It is wrong and it is infuriating.”
According to McCaw, the Office of Policy and Management has already brought in an independent auditor. She wrote in a statement that the office will “fully investigate these claims in West Haven and wherever else there are allegations,” according to the Middletown Press.
Elicker told the News that New Haven City Hall would “certainly be open” to Connecticut conducting audits of the city’s funding.
“In addition to our own internal procedures to ensure appropriate spending controls, we implement an annual external audit,” Elicker added. “The most recent report for fiscal year 2020 showed a ‘clean opinion’ from our external auditors. We’ll continue to work to ensure that New Haven tax payer dollars are spent wisely and appropriately.”
If found guilty, DiMassa could face up to 20 years in prison, according to federal authorities.