An independent audit, released by Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration late Friday, found that roughly 80% of West Haven’s spending of COVID relief funds should not have been allowed due to ineligible expenses or insufficient documentation.
The audit of how West Haven spent its $1.15 million in federal pandemic funding was conducted by CohnReznick and came as a result of charges against former state Rep. Michael DiMassa, D-West Haven. DiMassa resigned from the legislature and a West Haven municipal position after federal investigators charged him with embezzling more than $630,000.
However, most of the $893,000 in misspent funds identified by auditors were unrelated to DiMassa and were often attributed to a lack of internal financial controls in the city’s government.
Suspect spending ranged from overtime pay, the hiring of a 20-piece marching band, to $7,850 spent on remodeling a shower.
“The City should immediately implement proper internal controls and segregation of duties over cash deposits, cash disbursements, payroll, overtime, credit card purchases, and procurement of contracts,” the 25-page report read in part.
In a nine-page letter to the Municipal Accountability Review Board, Office of Policy and Management officials said the weaknesses identified in the report would require “sustained good faith efforts” by West Haven officials and board members in order to correct.
The OPM officials questioned whether West Haven city leaders were committed to executing the changes called for by the auditors and contemplated whether the Municipal Accountability Review Board should exert additional oversight of the city.
“[T]he MARB should consider whether the City is capable of implementing the corrective action plan detailed in the previous section,” the memo read.
Republican lawmakers, who made repeated calls for additional audits in the aftermath of DiMassa’s arrest, called the report “disturbing.”
“This report is a stunning indictment of alleged misuse of COVID-19 relief funds and an administration that allowed such neglect and waste to occur. If this could happen in one town, how do we know it isn’t happening in others?” Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly and Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said in a joint statement.
Bob Stefanowski, Republican candidate for governor, called on West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi to resign.
“Enough is enough already. This is an injustice to the people of West Haven, a community already paying some of the highest local taxes in the state, being overseen by the Municipal Accountability Review Board because their local finances are in such a disarray, and the report released today only adds insult to injury,” Stefanowski said.
A call for comment to the mayor’s office went unanswered late Friday.