The Bulkeley Bridge across the Connecticut River on Thursday, March 19, 2020
The Bulkeley Bridge across the Connecticut River on Thursday, March 19, 2020, during an extraordinarily quiet afternoon rush hour because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Doug Hardy / CTNewsJunkie

In the wake of fraud charges in West Haven, the Office of Policy and Management has broadened its review into how Connecticut towns have spent COVID relief funding and will pay an independent firm to audit each municipality. 

Last month, federal authorities accused two West Haven employees, including a former Democratic state representative, Michael DiMassa, of fraudulently billing the city’s COVID grant program for more than $630,000 in consulting services they never provided. 

The incident prompted immediate calls from Republican lawmakers for an audit of every town to determine if such abuse existed on a more widespread basis. 

In a Friday letter to municipal leaders, OPM Undersecretary Martin Heft said the state had engaged CohnReznick LLP, an accounting firm in Hartford, to review town and city policy and spending documents. The letter called on municipalities to begin assembling records ranging from itemized COVID relief fund expenditures, details on how those expenses were connected to the public health crisis, as well as payroll and compensation policies. 

In an email, OPM spokesman Chris McClure said municipalities had been directed to keep sufficient records to demonstrate their funds had been used appropriately. 

“Since the beginning of the [Coronavirus Relief Fund] Program, OPM has notified all municipalities that these public dollars must only be used for specific, delineated purposes per [United States Treasury] guidance, and would be subject to Federal Single Audit,” McClure said. 

Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly wrote to OPM Secretary Melissa McCaw last month requesting her agency conduct extensive audits after news of DiMassa’s arrest broke. 

“It happened in West Haven and we know that,” Kelly said later. “There was an FBI investigation of alleged wrongdoing. I certainly hope it didn’t happen in any other town but we need [to know] right now, because the public trust has been shattered, we need to make sure it never happens again.”

In October, Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said he believed most municipalities had erred on the side of caution when it came to spending the funds. 

“It’s been municipalities operating with more caution than perhaps they even need and a level of fear. ‘What if I get it wrong?’” DeLong said.