Newly released documents from the city of West Haven show how Michael DiMassa, a state Democratic lawmaker and former municipal employee, was allegedly able to funnel more than $636,000 in federal funds to a shell company he set up earlier this year.
The records, which were obtained by the CT Mirror through a request under the state’s Freedom of Information Act, show that DiMassa, 30, personally signed off on invoices that were submitted to the city by a limited liability corporation, which he formed under the name Compass Investment Group.
Those actions led to the FBI arresting DiMassa, who served as an assistant to the West Haven city council. He is charged with federal wire fraud after allegedly stealing more than half of the $1.2 million in federal CARES Act funding that West Haven received in December.
The financial documents, for the first time, also suggest that DiMassa was not the only city employee to oversee the alleged fraud. In order to gain access to the federal money, DiMassa also apparently obtained a second signature on the invoices from West Haven’s Finance Director Frank Cieplinski.
The documents show that the line above “director of finance” was signed on the invoices that Compass Investment Group filed with the city over the course of eight months. The signatures above that line are not clearly legible in any of the invoices, but Cieplinski has served as the finance director since January 2019.
DiMassa and his attorney, John Gulash, did not return a phone call and email late Friday. The 30-year-old state lawmaker resigned from his job with the city council this week.
Cieplinski, on the other hand, is still listed as West Haven’s finance director as federal authorities continue to investigate the matter. Cieplinski could not be reached for comment Friday night.
The state Office of Policy and Management, which provided West Haven with that money, has opened an independent audit into how the city distributed the funding.
The state agency is collecting information from the rest of Connecticut’s 169 towns and cities, which also received federal CARES Act money.
The West Haven city council voted in December 2020 to appoint DiMassa and Cieplinski as the mayor’s “designees” for the federal funding. That put both of them in the position of overseeing the large pot of federal taxpayer money.
The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s office alleged this week that nobody within West Haven’s health department ever approved Compass as a city contractor.
The city’s financial records show DiMassa and his company submitted invoices to the health department ranging from between $11,000 and $87,000. Many of those invoices claimed the payments were for consulting and legal work related to the pandemic.
Others suggested the company was being paid to help to set up a “COVID-19 clinic.”
The July 2 invoice, for example, claims that Compass logged 50 hours to provide “legislative review” of mask guidelines — at a cost of $8, 750 — for example, and another 375 hours for “support staff services.”
The FBI agent who investigated the alleged fraud, however, said no work was ever provided to the city in return for that money. Instead, federal investigators allege DiMassa personally withdrew tens of thousands of dollars from Compass’ bank account and used some of that to purchase poker chips at the Mohegan Sun casino.
In court, DiMassa claimed he was suffering from a gambling addiction, and a federal judge ordered him Wednesday not to place any online bets or step foot inside a casino after being released on $250,000 bail.
West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi did not return a call left on her cell phone Friday night. But in recent weeks, she has claimed that her administration already improved some of the city’s accounting practices and financial controls in order to prevent similar problems from arising in the future.
She has been unwilling to elaborate, however, on the specifics of those changes.
In the meantime, West Haven’s leaders remain in control of another $14.5 million in federal funding that was sent to West Haven through the American Rescue Plan Act earlier this year.
Cieplinski told the West Haven city council on Oct. 12 that that money was safe and accounted for.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated how much money Michael DiMassa allegedly spent on chips at the Mohegan Sun casino.