Ex-lawmaker pleads guilty in theft of $1.2M in COVID-19 aid

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former Connecticut state representative pleaded guilty Tuesday in connection with the theft of more than $1.2 million in federal coronavirus relief funds from the city of West Haven, using some of the money for gambling at a casino, according to prosecutors.

Michael DiMassa, a West Haven Democrat, appeared in federal court in Hartford and pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud conspiracy. DiMassa's wife and his former business partner also pleaded guilty earlier this year, while a fourth person charged in the scheme awaits trial.

At the time of the theft, DiMassa was both a state representative and an aide to the West Haven City Council. Prosecutors alleged he used his city position, which had authority to approve the reimbursement of COVID-19 expenditures, to steal the funds — some of which he used for gambling at the Mohegan Sun Casino in eastern Connecticut.

DiMassa resigned from both positions after his arrest last year.

No sentencing date was set for DiMassa. The sentencing guideline range for the charges he pleaded guilty to is 41 to 51 months.

DiMassa didn't answer questions as he left the courthouse Tuesday.

DiMassa's wife, Lauren DiMassa, pleaded guilty in July to wire fraud conspiracy. Prosecutors said West Haven paid her nearly $148,000 for services she never provided to the city. Her sentencing is set for January.

The couple submitted fraudulent invoices to the city for coronavirus-related services including youth violence prevention, but instead they used the money for their own benefit, prosecutors said. Lauren DiMassa's lawyer has said she turned over most of the money she received from the city to her husband.

John Bernardo, Michael DiMassa's former business partner who served as a housing specialist for the city, also pleaded guilty to a wire fraud charge for his role in the theft. He is scheduled to be sentenced Nov. 29.

A fourth person charged in the case, business owner John Trasacco, pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors said Trasacco is linked to fraudulent invoices submitted to the city for COVID-19 related services that were never provided. His trial is slated to start on Nov. 21.

West Haven officials came under scrutiny for how they spent more than $1 million the city received in federal COVID-19 relief funds. An audit released in April indicated about 80% of the expenditures should not have been allowed.

In May, Gov. Ned Lamont approved a recommendation by a state board to place West Haven's finances under greater state oversight. The city had previously been placed under state oversight because of budget deficit problems.

Dave Collins, The Associated Press