Federal authorities arrested state Rep. Michael DiMassa Wednesday morning on wire fraud charges, alleging the West Haven Democrat had misdirected more than $630,000 of the town’s COVID relief funding and apparently gambled some of the cash on casino games.
DiMassa, 30, appeared Wednesday before Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam at the U.S. District Court in New Haven and was released on a $250,000 bond. The wire fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.
First elected to the state legislature in 2016, DiMassa is also employed by West Haven as an administrative assistant to the city council and is listed as a principal of Compass Investment Group, LLC.
According to his arrest affidavit, the city of West Haven wrote a series of checks to Compass Investment Group totalling more than $636,000 for hundreds of hours of billed work related to the COVID pandemic. The deposits coincided with thousands in withdrawals by DiMassa and subsequent cash “Buy-Ins” through Mohegan Sun Patron Gaming.
Over a 10-day period between May 7 and May 17 of this year, DiMassa bought more than $33,000 in casino chips, the affidavit said. In another stretch between May 21 and May 29, he bought another $24,600 in chips, according to the court documents.
Earlier this month, West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi alerted residents to several large and potentially fraudulent expenditures of the $1.2 million the city received from the 2020 federal CARES Act funding.
“After reviewing the expenditures I suspect that some of these funds may have been diverted and not used for the purpose for which they were intended — a thought that sickens me,” the mayor said during a video statement on the city’s Youtube channel. “Having found this irregularity, it is my responsibility to report it.”
Rossi said the expenditures would undergo audits by two independent accounting firms and investigation by law enforcement agencies.
“If the investigation proves any wrongdoing and fraudulent activity, I will demand anyone involved be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Rossi said. “If anyone is found guilty, they should go right to jail.”
In Hartford, DiMassa serves on the Judiciary and Public Safety Committees. At one point he was vice chair of the Appropriations Committee, legislature’s budgetary spending panel.
House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas released a joint statement Wednesday afternoon and announced they had removed DiMassa from his committee and leadership assignments.
“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,” Ritter and Rojas said. “We will be monitoring this story closely to see when and if more facts emerge.”
Senate Republican leaders released a statement calling on Gov. Ned Lamont to direct the Office of Policy and Management to conduct audits of COVID relief spending in all Connecticut municipalities. In a letter to OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw, Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said they were “greatly disturbed” by the allegations of fraud in West Haven.
“These funds are intended to help residents and communities recover during one of the most challenging times of a generation,” the Republicans wrote. “To learn that officials may have allegedly diverted funding for other purposes shatters public trust. It is wrong and it is infuriating.”
In a statement, House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora said the West Haven incident should serve as a “wakeup call” and prompt more scrutiny of how federal relief funds were being spent in Connecticut.
“[W]ith 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,” Candelora said.
At a Wednesday event in Derby, Lamont told News 12 Connecticut that the Office of Policy and Management was involved in a forensic audit of how federal dollars were spent in West Haven.
“We’ll look beyond if need to look beyond, but I want to give people confidence that this money is being invested appropriately and not siphoned off,” the governor said.