Indictment Charges Former State Rep, 3 Others, with Stealing West Haven's COVID Relief Funds
Leonard C Boyle, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, David Sundberg, Special Agent in Charge of the New Haven Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Christina D. Scaringi, Special Agent in Charge of the Office of Inspector General, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, today announced that a federal grand jury in Hartford has returned an indictment charging former employee of the City of West Haven and his three alleged co-conspirators for their involvement in schemes that resulted in the theft of more than $1.2 million dollars in COVID relief funds and other funds from the City of West Haven.
The six-count indictment, which was returned yesterday, charges MICHAEL DiMASSA, 31, JOHN TRASACCO, 50, LAUREN KNOX, 37, and JOHN BERNARDO, 65, all of West Haven, with conspiracy and fraud offenses. Trasacco and Knox, who were arrested today, and DiMassa and Bernardo, who were previously arrested, appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Spector in New Haven and pleaded not guilty to the charges. They are released on bond pending trial.
As alleged in the indictment, DiMassa was a Connecticut State Representative who was also employed by the City of West Haven, most recently serving as the Administrative Assistant to the City Council. 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 Trasacco, Knox and Bernardo 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.
The indictment alleges that DiMassa conspired with Trasacco through the submission of fraudulent invoices to L & H Company and JIL Sanitation Services, two entities controlled by Trasacco, for goods and services never received by West Haven, including thousands of units of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), HVAC maintenance at multiple municipal locations, COVID supplies for the Board of Education, and cleaning services for various municipal and school buildings, including one school building that had been vacant and abandoned for several years. L & H Company and JIL Sanitation Services received approximately $431,982 through this scheme.
The indictment also alleges that DiMassa and Knox, who are now married, submitted numerous fraudulent invoices to West Haven for services related to a Youth Violence Prevention Program and for Youth Violence COVID-19 Associated Expenses. These invoices listed charges for in-home counseling, cleaning supplies, special needs hourly service, wi-fi assistance for low/moderate income families, counseling services, license fees, a fall youth clinic, meals, support group supplies, equipment rental, and youth clinic support group. West Haven made at least 16 payments totaling approximately $147,776.10 to Knox, who never provided any services to the City of West Haven.
It is further alleged that 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 at least $45,000 of these funds.
As disclosed previously in court documents, it is alleged that 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.
The indictment charges DiMassa with three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and three counts of wire fraud. Trasacco, Knox and Bernardo are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of wire fraud. Each charge carries a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years.
U.S. Attorney Boyle stressed that an indictment is not evidence of guilt. Charges are only allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This matter is being 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. Attorney Ray Miller.
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.