A Connecticut state legislator who works as an aide to the West Haven City Council was arrested Tuesday by the FBI amid scrutiny of the city's spending of federal pandemic relief money, officials said.
State Rep. Michael DiMassa, 30, of West Haven, is accused of defrauding the City of West Haven of more than $600,000, according to the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut. He was released on a $250,000 bond.
Federal officials said DiMassa and another individual formed Compass Investment Group, LLC in January. A month later, the company billed the City of West Haven and its “COVID-19 Grant Department” for consulting services purportedly provided to the West Haven Health Department that were not performed, federal officials said.
Get Connecticut local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Connecticut newsletters.
Between February and September, the City of West Haven paid Compass Investment Group a total of $636,783.70, according to federal officials .
DiMassa is accused of making several large cash withdrawals from the Compass Investment Group LLC bank account, some of which were made shortly before or after he was recorded as having made a large cash “buy-in” of gaming chips at the Mohegan Sun Casino, according to the office of the U.S Attorney's Office in Connecticut.
Court documents document the cash "buy-ins" of gaming chips at Mohegan Sun, amounting to $33,100 between May 7 and May 15 and $24,600 between May 21 and 29.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General for Investigations are investigating.
In January 2021, DiMassa and another individual formed Compass Investment Group, LLC. Beginning in February 2021, Compass Investment Group LLC fraudulently billed the City of West Haven and its “COVID-19 Grant Department” for consulting services purportedly provided to the West Haven Health Department that were not performed, according to the United States Attorney. From February 2021 through September 2021, the City of West Haven paid Compass Investment Group a total of $636,783.70.
Attorney John Gulash said his client has been released. He did not comment on the case and said his client will have no comment.
Last week, Mayor Nancy Rossi posted a video on the city's YouTube page saying that she had come across several large expenditures that might be fraudulent and had requested a forensic investigation of the city's spending of federal pandemic relief funds.
West Haven's share of the $2.2 trillion in stimulus funding from the CARES Act has been more than $1.15 million so far, according to the state Office of Policy and Management.
Charles Grady, a spokesman for the FBI in New Haven, told Hearst Connecticut Media last week that agents visited City Hall on Friday, but would not confirm whether an investigation was underway.
Rossi, who is also a certified public accountant, last week acknowledged using some relief funding to pay City Hall employees overtime for working on pandemic-related tasks, but said that is a proper use of the money.
Rossi has released a statement on Wednesday night.
“If Representative DiMassa broke the public’s trust and his oath to protect and serve his constituents and is found guilty of fraudulent activity, I am demanding that he and any other individual(s) involved be held accountable and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If convicted, all individuals involved should go to jail,” part of the statement from Rossi said.
DiMassa was first elected to the Connecticut House of Representatives in 2016, representing West Haven and New Haven. He serves as the House vice chairman of the Appropriations Committee and as a member of the Judiciary Committee and Executive and Legislative Nominations Committee.
House Speaker Matt Ritter and Majority Leader Jason Rojas released a statement on Wednesday and said they immediately removed Rep. DiMassa from all committee and leadership assignments.
"Elected officials are rightly held to a high standard of conduct and trust. Even the slightest hint of wrongdoing bruises that trust," Ritter and Rojas said in a statement.
"We have significant concerns about Rep. DiMassa’s arrest but we don’t have information on the charges or additional details. We will be monitoring this story closely to see when and if more facts emerge. In the meantime we are immediately removing Rep. DiMassa from all committee and leadership assignments," the statement went on to say.
The Associated Press left a message seeking comment with DiMiassa's legislative spokesperson.
According to his legislative website, DiMassa currently works as a legislative aide to the West Haven City Council, as well as the Council's Clerk. He previously worked as an assistant to the mayor until 2013, before being appointed administrative aide to the West Haven Registrar of Voters.
Gov. Ned Lamont was asked about the arrest of DiMassa during a news conference Wednesday.
“I just heard about that but public service is a public trust and we're putting a lot of resources to work and I think people have a right to make sure that those resources are going to people in need,” Lamont said. “I can tell you that OPM and (Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw” are going right at this in terms of a forensic audit, they've already hired folks to do the audit, we'll look at West Haven, we'll look beyond if need to look beyond, but I want to give people confidence that this money is being invested appropriately and not siphoned off.”
DiMassa will not be allowed to take part in any form of gambling.
He is due back in court on Dec. 10.