Federal authorities have arrested another West Haven municipal employee who they say was involved, along with former Rep. Michael DiMassa, in a criminal conspiracy to steal the town’s COVID relief funds.
In a press release Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the arrest of John Bernardo, a 65-year-old housing specialist and business partner to DiMassa, on wire fraud and conspiracy charges. He was released on a $250,000 bond after appearing before Judge Robert Spector Thursday in a New Haven U.S. District Court.
In January, DiMassa and Bernardo, who worked in West Haven’s Community Development Administration, formed a company called Compass Investment Group. According to investigators, they used the company to fraudulently bill the city’s COVID grant program for more than $630,000 consulting services they never provided. Bernardo collected at least $45,000 from the scheme, the press release said.
DiMassa, a Democrat who has since resigned his seat in the state legislature as well as his administrative assistant position with the town, is accused of stealing more and apparently using some of it to gamble. According to court documents, DiMassa spent more than $50,000 on casino chips at Mohegan Sun Casino on dates coinciding with withdrawals related to the town.
Next month, DiMassa is scheduled to be back in court for a probable cause hearing on Dec. 10. Gov. Ned Lamont has scheduled a special election four days later on Dec. 14 to fill his now-vacant seat, which represents West Haven and a part of New Haven. First elected in 2016, DiMassa ran unopposed last year.
In October, 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.
The conspiracy scandal became a point of contention during the town’s local elections. Rossi was narrowly re-elected on Tuesday, beating out Republican Barry Lee Cohen by just 29 votes, according to unofficial results from the Secretary of the State’s Office. The town is expected to hold a recount over the coming weekend.
Rossi released a statement Thursday, praising the ongoing investigation.
“As we continue forward with the investigation into this alleged horrific crime, I am happy to see that those suspected of wrongdoing and fraud are being held accountable for their actions,” Rossi said. “I am sick to my stomach over this alleged theft, and I want all those individuals involved to be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If found guilty, they need to go to jail.”