Connecticut Lawmaker Who Stole Pandemic Aid to Fuel Gambling Addiction Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
May 31, 2023US News
Connecticut Lawmaker Who Stole Pandemic Aid to Fuel Gambling Addiction Sentenced to 27 Months in Prison
Michael DiMassa (L) and his lawyer, John Gulash (R), speak to reporters outside the federal court in Hartford, Conn., on May 31, 2023. (AP Photo/Dave Collins)

A former Connecticut state representative was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Wednesday for defrauding the city of West Haven of more than $1.2 million—most of it federal coronavirus-related aid—and using a good chunk of it to fuel his gambling addiction.

“I stole that money. That is on me,” Michael DiMassa said as he apologized during sentencing before Judge Omar Williams in the federal court in Hartford. “It’s hard to find the word to express how I feel. I feel ashamed, embarrassed, mortified.”

The 32-year-old West Haven Democrat pleaded guilty in November to three counts of wire fraud conspiracy, admitting that he, his wife, and others billed the city for services never rendered.

The judge took into account DiMassa’s earlier request for leniency, and gave him credit for accepting responsibility, for cooperating during the investigation, and for testifying against a co-defendant.

Under federal sentencing guidelines, DiMassa was looking at more than 4 years in prison. He now has to serve 27 months in prison, and will be forced to pay $866,000 in restitution—less than what prosecutors had requested.

West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi, a fellow Democrat, blasted the former city employee during the sentencing hearing. She said the pandemic aid he stole should have gone to businesses that really needed it.

“The city placed its trust in Mr. DiMassa,” Rossi said. “Our trust was misplaced. He is a liar, a thief, a con artist, and a degenerate gambler.”

According to his lawyer, John Gulash, DiMassa “suffered from a debilitating gambling addiction at the time of the offense” that resulted in a “precipitous downward spiral.”

He added that DiMassa’s gambling addiction had reached a point where he would bet on things as frivolous as how long the national anthem would take to perform at the Super Bowl, or what color Gatorade would be poured on the winning coach.

Gulash said the thefts destroyed the good reputation DiMassa had built up over the years.

DiMassa was named “Man of the Year” at West Haven’s Notre Dame High School, and graduated magna cum laude from Albertus Magnus College in New Haven with a business management degree.

DiMassa resigned from the Legislature and the city of West Haven after his arrest in 2021.

At the time of the thefts, which began in mid-2020, DiMassa was an aide to the West Haven City Council, and was tasked with approving reimbursements for coronavirus-related expenses.

According to the prosecutors, DiMassa teamed up with a colleague, John Bernardo, who was also a city employee. Together, they created a partnership, Compass Investment Group LLC, and used it as a vehicle to bill the city to the tune of $636,000 for a variety of COVID-related services that were never rendered, including legal, lobbying, and consulting services.

Bernardo was sentenced to 13 months in prison in March and ordered to pay $59,000 in restitution.

In a second scheme, DiMassa and another business owner, John Trasacco, defrauded the city of nearly $432,000 in COVID-19 aid via two dummy corporations Trasacco established for that purpose. Nearly all of the money went to Trasacco, who was sentenced to eight years in March, and will be made to pay $144,000 in restitution.

DiMassa’s wife, Lauren, also became involved in her husband’s schemes, cashing 16 fraudulent checks for him. Together, they obtained nearly $148,000 through phony requests for city payments to a youth violence prevention program.

Lauren DiMassa, who is pregnant with the couple’s second child and has two teenage daughters from a previous marriage, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced in March to six months in prison. She was also ordered to pay nearly $148,000 in restitution.

DiMassa, who has been battling testicular cancer, remains free on bond and must report to prison by July 31.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.