Vanessa Roberts Avery, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that JOHN BERNARDO, 66, of West Haven, was sentenced today by U.S. District Judge Omar A. Williams in Hartford to 13 months of imprisonment, followed by three years of supervised release, for participating in a scheme to steal COVID-19 relief funds from the City of West Haven.
According to court documents and statements made in court, Bernardo was employed by the City of West Haven as a Housing Specialist in the office of Community Development Administration. Michael DiMassa was also employed by the City of West Haven, most recently serving as the Administrative Assistant to the City Council, and was a Connecticut State Representative.
In April 2020, the State of Connecticut was allocated money by the U.S. Department of the Treasury through the Coronavirus Relief Fund (“CRF”), which was established by the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”) for the purpose of helping local governments pay costs incurred in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. From July 2020 through September 2021, the City of West Haven received approximately $1,150,257 in financial assistance from this fund. DiMassa, who was authorized to approve the designated relief funds for the reimbursement of COVID-related expenditures incurred by West Haven, conspired with Bernardo, John Trasacco, and DiMassa’s now wife, Lauren DiMassa, to steal these funds and other West Haven funds through the submission of fraudulent invoices, and subsequent payment, for COVID relief goods and services that were never provided.
In January 2021, DiMassa and Bernardo 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. From February 2021 through September 2021, the City of West Haven paid Compass Investment Group a total of $636,783.70. Bernardo received a portion of these funds. DiMassa made 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.
Judge Williams ordered Bernardo to pay $58,927.25 in restitution.
Bernardo was arrested on November 4, 2021. On June 14, 2022, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Bernardo, who is released on a $250,000 bond, is required to report to prison on May 22.
On November 1, 2022, DiMassa pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He is awaiting sentencing and has agreed to pay restitution of $1,216,541.80.
On December 2, 2022, a jury found Trasacco, whose companies received approximately $431,982 through this scheme, guilty of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of wire fraud. He is awaiting sentencing.
On July 12, 2022, Lauren DiMassa, who received $147,776 through this scheme, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She is scheduled to be sentenced tomorrow at 10 a.m.
This matter has been investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Office of Inspector General for Investigations. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ray Miller and David Sheldon.
Individuals with information about allegations of attempted fraud involving COVID-19 are encouraged to report it by calling the Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721, or via the NCDF Web Complaint Form at: https://www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud/ncdf-disaster-complaint-form.