A former Democratic state representative from Connecticut pleaded guilty to stealing funds allocated for Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic relief during his term.
Former State Rep. Michael DiMassa entered a guilty plea before a federal court Nov. 1, in connection with the theft of federal COVID-19 relief funds amounting to more $1.2 million. As per court documents and prosecutors, the embezzled amount was used to gamble at a casino. Government lawyers alleged that DiMassa used his position as an aide to the city council of West Haven, Connecticut – which had authority to approve the reimbursement of COVID-19 expenditures – to steal the money.
Back in October 2021, the Democratic state congressman resigned from the Connecticut House of Representatives and the West Haven council following his arrest. He managed to secure his temporary freedom through a $250,000 bond.
DiMassa was later charged with three counts of wire fraud conspiracy, which he pleaded guilty to on Nov. 1. His wife Lauren DiMassa and former business partner John Bernardo also entered guilty pleas earlier in 2022. Meanwhile a fourth person charged in the scheme – business owner John Trasacco – awaits trial.
No sentencing date was set for DiMassa, though he agreed to pay restitution amounting to more than $1.2 million. While the sentencing guideline range for the charges the pleaded guilty to is 41 to 51 months, they carry a maximum prison time of 30 years for each count – possibly putting the former state congressman behind bars for 90 years.
According to a press release by the Department of Justice (DOJ), DiMassa and Bernardo colluded to defraud the city of COVID-19 relief funds. The two formed Compass Investment Group in January 2021, billing the city for “consulting services” that were never performed. Between February and September 2021, the city paid Compass more than $630,000.
“DiMassa made several large cash withdrawals from the Compass Investment Group 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 press release stated. (Related: Former head of USAID’s pandemic threat assessment program seems to have stolen taxpayer money.)
The DOJ press release also mentioned that the former state representative conspired with his wife to defraud West Haven of pandemic relief money. Lauren DiMassa reportedly received under $148,000 for services she never provided.
West Haven made at least 16 payments totaling approximately $144,776.10 to Lauren, with the backing of her husband. The DiMassa couple submitted fraudulent invoices to the city for services such as a youth violence prevention program and for youth violence COVID-19 associated expenses.
“These invoices listed charges for in-home counseling, cleaning supplies, special needs hourly service, Wi-Fi assistance for low/moderate income families, counseling services, license fees, a fall youth clinic, meals, support group supplies, equipment rental and youth clinic support group,” the press release stated.
It was eventually revealed that the amounts in the invoices billed to the city were used by the DiMassas for their own benefit, prosecutors said. Lauren’s lawyer said their client turned over most of the money she received from the city to her husband.
The issue involving the DiMassas came amid West Haven officials being subject to criticism for how they spent the city’s $1 million federal COVID-19 money allocation. According to an audit released in April, about 80 percent of the expenditures for the $1 million allocation should not have been allowed.
The next month, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont approved a recommendation by a state board to place the city’s finances under greater state oversight. This was the second instance that the state government at Hartford oversaw West Haven’s finances, as it had previously been placed under state oversight because of budget deficit problems.
Corruption.news has more stories about the embezzlement of COVID-19 relief funds.
Watch this Fox News report that talks about five agents of the Internal Revenue Service being charged with COVID-19 relief fraud.
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