Defendant in West Haven trial guilty of fraud, conspiracy
The defendant in a high-profile fraud trial involving the theft of more than $431,000 from the city of West Haven was found guilty Friday of two federal crimes.
After roughly five hours of deliberations, a 12-member jury convicted John Trasacco, a Branford resident, of wire fraud and a federal conspiracy charge.
The jurors found Trasacco guilty after listening to days of testimony from West Haven officials, a federal agent and Michael DiMassa, a former state lawmaker and West Haven employee who conspired with Trasacco to submit phony invoices to the city.
The trial was focused solely on Trasacco and how he used two of his companies to steal hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city.
But over the course of two weeks, the jurors learned how DiMassa, Trasacco and two other defendants stole a combined $1.2 million from the West Haven taxpayers. They also got to hear about an allegedly illegal gambling ring, wads of cash stuffed into DiMassa’s pocket and how DiMassa walked checks out of city hall.
After the jurors read the verdict aloud, the federal prosecutors in the case immediately asked for Trasacco to be placed into custody while he awaits his sentencing hearing.
U.S. District Judge Omar Williams then listened to more than an hour of arguments from the prosecutors and Trasacco’s defense attorneys about whether he should be allowed to remain free pending his sentencing.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Sheldon argued that Trasacco was a flight risk and a “danger to the community.”
Sheldon and the other federal prosecutors were barred during the trial from making any reference to organized crime or the mob. They were also blocked from discussing Trasacco’s criminal history, which includes assault.
The prosecutors, however, reminded the judge that during the six days of testimony in the trial, witnesses told the jury that Trasacco was involved in an allegedly illegal gambling ring that operated out of an Italian restaurant in Branford.
They noted how Trasacco had no job, no property and no “legal” income.
“There is literally nothing to hold him,” Sheldon said.
To drive home that point, they told the judge that Trasacco failed to file an income tax statement for nearly five years. And when he did, it was only to claim $1 in income so he would be eligible to receive COVID stimulus payments from the federal government.
Sheldon also highlighted how Trasacco spent more than $23,000 at the Foxwoods Casino in the time between his indictment in February and when the trial started in November.
The prosecution team also highlighted the testimony of DiMassa, the former state lawmaker, who told the jury that he was afraid of Trasacco.
While he was on the witness stand, DiMassa recalled several moments where he became concerned about his safety with Trasacco.
That included a call he got from Trasacco after he was arrested. DiMassa testified that Trasacco said he was thinking about DiMassa and that he wanted to send some food over to his house.
After that happened, Dimassa testified that a doorbell camera on his home captured a hooded man showing up at his front door — without any food.
The public defenders who represented Trasacco, however, pushed back against the government’s motion.
Attorney Tracy Hayes argued that DiMassa was lying about feeling threatened, and he noted how Trasacco did not seek to intimidate the witnesses in any way during the trial.
Hayes said Trasacco “remained professional.” He didn’t “glare” or make any “comments or gestures,” Hayes said.
He also didn’t seek to make any contact with the various West Haven officials and other witnesses who took the stand, Hayes said.
“We’re not running from anything,” Hayes said. “He’s not a danger to anyone in the West Haven community.”
“What this boils down to is the government going after Mr. Trasacco because he exerted his right to a trial,” Hayes said.
In the end, the judge agreed that Trasacco could be a flight risk, and he chose to increase Trasacco’s unsecured bond from $100,000 to $200,000.
Trasacco could not immediately obtain that bond, so he was taken into custody by federal marshals until a hearing can be scheduled at a later date.