Rep. Michael DiMassa, the West Haven Democrat accused last week of defrauding the city’s COVID relief funds, resigned his position in the state legislature Monday, forcing a special election for the seat in the coming weeks.
In a six-page affidavit, federal authorities accused DiMassa of billing the city of West Haven, where he works as an administrative assistant, more than $630,000 in federal funding for consulting work his company Compass Investment Group did not complete. DiMassa later spent more than $50,000 on casino chips at Mohegan Sun, court documents allege.
Last week, DiMassa left his municipal job and stepped down from his elected position as state representative in a one-sentence letter to the Secretary of the State’s OfficeMonday morning.
“It is with deep regret that I hereby resign from the Office of State Representative of the 116 General Assembly District effective immediately,” DiMassa wrote.
In a joint statement, House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas said DiMassa had breached the public’s trust and was right to step down.
“Rep. DiMassa’s resignation is the right move for his constituents and the State,” Ritter and Rojas said. “He broke faith with the people of West Haven and can no longer serve as their trusted voice at the State Capitol.”
DiMassa’s resignation sets up a special election for the solidly Democratic seat in West Haven and parts of New Haven. State law requires Gov. Ned Lamont to issue a writ of special election within 10 days. The contest will occur 46 days later. First elected in 2016, DiMassa, 30, ran unopposed for reelection in 2020.
Lamont released a statement Monday afternoon calling the charges against DiMassa serious and troubling.
“If the allegations are true, he has not only broken the law but also betrayed the public trust. He had no choice but to resign,” Lamont said. “The citizens of West Haven and all of Connecticut deserve honest government,”
Federal authorities took DiMassa into custody Wednesday then released him on $250,000 bond. The arrest came more than a week after 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.
“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,” Rossi said during a video statement on the city’s Youtube channel. “Having found this irregularity, it is my responsibility to report it.”
The subsequent charges prompted calls by Republicans for Gov. Ned Lamon’ts budget office to audit all 169 Connecticut towns to ensure their COVID-19 relief funds were being used as intended. On Thursday afternoon, Senate and House Republican leaders called on the legislature’s Appropriations Committee to convene a public hearing to scrutinize pandemic relief expenditures.
“We are talking about funding that was intended to help the most vulnerable, to provide immediate aid to those struggling, to keep our communities safe and healthy, and to help people rebuild and recover,” the Republicans said in a joint statement. “We need answers and full transparency from the Governor’s administration. We have a long road ahead to rebuild trust.”
Melissa McCaw, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, released a statement this week saying her agency had already been in the process of collecting spending reports from all towns. Those reports were due to the state by Friday, she said.
“Once we have had an opportunity to review and take part in audits and investigations where necessary, we will take all appropriate steps to remedy fraud, illegal acts, violations or abuse reported and address any internal control weaknesses in order to fulfill our fiduciary responsibility,” McCaw said.
In an interview Thursday, Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said towns were already complying with strict reporting and spending guidelines attached to the federal funds. He said pervasive corruption with regard to the federal funding was unlikely.
“There are great protections that are in place and there’s even the potential for federal audits on the use of these funds later,” DeLong said. “So to me, if others are trying to go down this road, they can be pretty well assured that they won’t get away with it in the long run and I don’t believe this is happening on any widespread basis at all.”