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Former West Haven city employee gets 13 months in prison for stealing COVID-19 relief funds

John Bernardo (center), a former West Haven city employee, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for his role in a fraud scheme that resulted in more than $1.2 million being embezzled.
Andrew Brown
CT Mirror
John Bernardo (center), a former West Haven city employee, was sentenced to 13 months in prison for his role in a fraud scheme that resulted in more than $1.2 million being embezzled.

A former city employee was sentenced Wednesday for his role in a scheme to steal more than $600,000 in federal coronavirus relief funding from West Haven.

John Bernardo, 66, was sentenced to 13 months of imprisonment and was ordered to pay nearly $59,000 in restitution, representing the amount he personally received from the scam, prosecutors said.

Court documents and statements show that Bernardo was employed by the city of West Haven as a housing specialist in the office of Community Development Administration. Michael DiMassa, a former Democratic state representative, was also employed by the city.

From July 2020 through September 2021, the city of West Haven got more than $1.1 million from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, federal authorities said. That money was supposed to be used to help the city pay for expenses incurred in responding to the pandemic.

Instead, DiMassa, who was authorized to approve the use of the funds for reimbursement, “conspired with Bernardo, John Trasacco, and DiMassa’s now wife, Lauren DiMassa, 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,” federal authorities said.

Bernardo apologized for his actions at sentencing. His lawyer, Gregory Cerritelli, said Bernardo played only a small role in the thefts and called DiMassa the mastermind.

Federal authorities said DiMassa and Bernardo formed an LLC that fraudulently billed the city. From February 2021 through September 2021, the city paid the LLC more than $630,000 — a portion of which Bernardo received.

DiMassa “made several large cash withdrawals” from the LLC, federal authorities said, “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.”

Bernardo was arrested in November of 2021. On June 14, 2022, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. State Attorney General William Tong said earlier this month he would move to revoke or reduce Bernardo's pension from the city.

“He has pleaded guilty to a federal corruption charge,” Tong said in a statement. “State statute requires that the Office of the Attorney General now file suit to revoke or reduce his pension.”

DiMassa, who resigned from both the city and the legislature after his 2021 arrest, pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in November 2022. He is set to be sentenced next month and has agreed to pay restitution of more than $1.2 million. His wife is slated to be sentenced Thursday, March 23.

Federal authorities said Bernardo is free on bond but will be required to report to prison on May 22.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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