The state representative accused of stealing federal funds from West Haven has resigned. The FBI arrested Michael DiMassa last week for wire fraud, accusing him of billing the city for more than $636,000 for work they say was never provided. Last week DiMassa also stepped down from his position in the city.
During a West Haven City Council meeting Monday night, the mayor gave an update, including what steps are now in place so this doesn’t happen again.
Frustration and questions came from residents at Monday’s meeting.
“This is a disgrace. This is why West Haven looks the way we look in the state of Connecticut because it’s stuff like this,” said one resident.
“Are we going to get that money back that was taken from us?” another resident asked.
“I’m tired of West Haven always getting slapped in the face. The credibility, that irks me. Where’s the accountability from the finance department?” a third resident said.
Several agencies are investigating the misuse of federal Covid-19 funds given to West Haven. Now two audits are underway, one directed by the state Office of Policy and Management to determine how those funds were allegedly misused, if there are any other issues, and to recommend changes.
West Haven’s mayor said she’s put in place emergency spending controls while they wait for the audits.
“The emergency controls put in place include that all payments of $5,000 or greater after normal department and finance office approvals must be reviewed and approved by me or my executive assistant before payment is released. Obviously, the mayor’s office would not normally be involved in this process, but under the current circumstances, and until I have complete confidence in financial control structure, I feel this extra step is needed and necessary,” Mayor Nancy Rossi, a Democrat, said.
During the meeting, councilors asked the mayor several questions and gave comments. One councilor asked if updates on the forensic audit will be given throughout the investigation or just at the end. The mayor said she hadn’t been briefed on how the information would be released but can ask the company performing the audit to see. Many councilors spoke about the importance of building back trust with the public.
“There’s no doubt that the public trust has been shattered. And this council, this administration, a number of us, we have to restore and regain that public trust. We have to make sure that something like this never happens again,” Councilor Barry Lee Cohen, a Republican, said.
The mayor said it will take time to heal from something like this.
“I don’t think we can honestly move forward until we have the investigations and the audits, especially the forensic one. Because this way we can make the necessary changes and internal controls, which is our checks and balances in city hall to assure people that this is not going to happen again. Until we have exactly what happened, we’d only be guessing right now, and I don’t want to do that,” said Rossi.
The mayor said as soon as there are answers from the audits, they will be shared with the council and with the public.