Michael DiMassa, a former state Democratic lawmaker and West Haven municipal employee, was sentenced Wednesday to two years and three months in prison for his role in orchestrating embezzlement schemes that resulted in more than $1.2 million being stolen from the city government.
DiMassa, who is 32 years old, was also ordered to pay more than $865,000 in restitution back to the city of West Haven and will face an additional 5 years of supervised release.
The federal sentencing hearing at the U.S. District Court in Hartford marked the final chapter in a public corruption investigation that started nearly two years ago and exposed a sprawling scheme in West Haven to steal federal COVID relief funds.
Federal prosecutors originally recommended DiMassa serve between 3 to 4 years in federal prison for helping to pass off dozens of phony invoices in the city’s finance department.
But U.S. District Judge Omar Williams chose to deliver a more lenient sentence based on DiMassa’s guilty plea and the testimony he provided in court, which helped prosecutors to convict one of his co-defendants.
Williams acknowledged that none of the money would have been stolen had DiMassa not processed the fake invoices for himself and the three other defendants who were convicted as part of the investigation.
“Since day one, this has been the DiMassa case,” Williams said before delivering the sentence.
But the federal judge also acknowledge the “extensive” cooperation that DiMassa provided during the trial of John Trasacco, another West Haven resident who was sentenced to 8 years in prison after a high-profile jury trial.
DiMassa took the opportunity inside and outside the courtroom to apologize to West Haven officials, his family, his former colleagues in the legislature, and the local, state and federal taxpayers he stole from.
He told the judge that he was “ashamed” and “mortified” by his decision to form fake companies in order to submit fraudulent invoices to the city.
“This falls on me,” DiMassa said. “I stole that money. That falls on me.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Raymond Miller also acknowledged at the start of the Wednesday’s hearing that DiMassa’s case presented a difficult sentencing decision for the judge.
Miller told the judge that Dimassa’s theft of $1.2 million in federal COVID relief funds was an “egregious” crime, and he said DiMassa betrayed the public trust that was placed in him as a state lawmaker and city employee.
But Miller also recognized the consequential testimony that DiMassa delivered at Trasacco’s jury trial in late 2022.
Prosecutors used DiMassa as the star witness in that trial to help explain to jurors exactly how he and Trasacco conspired to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars — something Trasacco never confessed to doing, unlike the other defendants in the case.
“He should get credit for it,” Miller told the judge. “Full stop.”
DiMassa’s defense attorney, John Gulash, agreed with prosecutors on that point.
During a lengthy speech, Gulash emphasized how DiMassa accepted his guilt and testified on behalf of prosecutors for more than three days. DiMassa testified truthfully, Gulash noted, even as the defense attorneys for Trasacco questioned his character and pried into his personal life.
DiMassa was “figuratively stripped naked in a crowded courtroom” during that trial, Gulash argued.
But DiMassa’s cooperation with federal prosecutors was not the only point that Gulash highlighted as he argued for a lighter criminal sentence. He also cited DiMassa’s gambling addiction, the fact that DiMassa’s wife was also sentenced to prison as part of the scheme, and DiMassa’s recent cancer diagnosis as reasons for leniency.
Not everyone in the courtroom on Wednesday was as forgiving, however.
West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi, who is serving her third term, read a victim statement during the hearing and asked the judge to sentence DiMassa to the maximum sentence allowed for his crimes, which is 30 years in prison.
“This theft could not or would not have occurred without him,” Rossi said.
“He is a liar, a thief, a con artist and degenerate gambler,” she added.
Rossi went on to blame the $1.2 million theft and DiMassa’s arrest in 2021 for the “cascade” of problems the city has faced in recent years, including news stories about the city’s woeful financial management and the recent decision to place West Haven under more stringent state oversight.
Rossi, who does not intend to run for reelection this year, also complained that DiMassa nearly cost her the last mayoral election in 2021, which she eventually won by 32 votes during a runoff.
As part of her statement in court, Rossi acknowledged that she helped to appoint DiMassa to oversee the federal COVID funds he later stole.
But in front of television cameras outside the courthouse, Rossi sought to distance herself from the former lawmaker.
“I was never a fan of his, even when he was in city hall,” she said.