A former Connecticut state representative has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for stealing more than $1.2 million of federal Covid relief funds from the city of West Haven.
Michael DiMassa, left, addresses the press after his sentencing on Wednesday. He was treated leniently by the judge because of his contrition and cooperation with federal prosecutors. (Image: Arnold Gold/Hearst Connecticut Media)
Michael DiMassa pleaded guilty in November 2022 to wire fraud and conspiracy charges in relation to the embezzlement.
The 32-year-old disgraced politician was in charge of the city’s COVID-19 Grant Department and had the power to cut checks without oversight. With three co-conspirators, he formed shell companies that billed the city for nonexistent services.
DiMassa ‘Bet on Anything’
The corrupt official blew thousands of dollars at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. His lawyer, John Gulash, told the court DiMassa had a gambling problem and compared him to Adam Sandler’s character in the movie “Uncut Gems,” whose addiction sparked a “precipitous downward spiral.”
Gulash said DiMassa would bet on anything, including the length of the national anthem at the Super Bowl or what color Gatorade would be poured on the winning coach.
I stole that money. That is on me,” DiMassa told a federal judge in Hartford prior to sentencing Wednesday. “It’s hard to find the word to express how I feel. I feel ashamed, embarrassed, mortified.”
Di Massa was facing up to 30 years in prison before he took the plea deal last year. As part of that deal, he testified against his co-conspirators, John Bernardo and John Trasacco.
Trasacco, 50, a local business owner, made out $432K in phony invoices, which were paid by DiMassa. Trasacco was convicted of fraud after a jury trial and received an eight-year prison sentence in March.
With Bernardo, a city employee, DiMassa formed Compass Investment Group, which invoiced the city grant department for $636K.
Despite being a partner in the shell company, Bernardo received just $50K of the embezzled cash. He told a judge at his plea hearing that the first time he learned how much had been siphoned into Compass Investment was when he read about it in the newspapers. Bernardo was sentenced to 13 months in prison in March.
DiMassa’s wife, Lauren Di Massa, who is pregnant, was also implicated. In 2020 and 2021, DiMassa submitted $148K in fake invoices to West Haven’s Youth Violence Prevention Program, which was not part of the Covid relief fund. He requested the checks to be made out to his wife, who was then known as Lauren Knox. She was sentenced to six months in prison for her role in the scheme.
‘Liar and a Thief’
US District Judge Omar Williams chose leniency when sentencing DiMassa over the three to four years recommended by federal prosecutors, citing his contrition and eventual cooperation with the government. But West Haven’s Democratic mayor, Nancy Rossi, was having none of his contrition.
“The city placed its trust in Mr DiMassa,” she said. “Our trust was misplaced. He is a liar, a thief, a con artist, and a degenerate gambler.”
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