Former Connecticut lawmaker, a gambling addict, gets 27 months for stealing coronavirus aid
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former Connecticut state representative was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Wednesday for stealing more than $1.2 million from the city of West Haven — most of it in 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 his sentencing before Judge Omar Williams.
“It’s hard to find the word to express how I feel. I feel ashamed, embarrassed, mortified," the West Haven Democrat said.
DiMassa, 32, had asked for leniency. He could have gotten more than four years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines.
“Mr. DiMassa suffered from a debilitating gambling addiction at the time of the offense,” his lawyer, John Gulash, wrote in a court filing, “and his essentially unfettered access to a deep pool of federal funds and total lack of impulse control facilitated his precipitous downward spiral.”
The lawyer compared DiMassa to Howard Ratner, the gambler played by Adam Sandler in the movie “Uncut Gems." He said he 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.
He did much of his gambling and betting at the Mohegan Sun casino in eastern Connecticut.
At the time of the thefts, which began in mid-2020, DiMassa was both a state representative and an aide to the West Haven City Council, with authority to approve reimbursements for coronavirus-related expenses. He pleaded guilty in November to three counts of wire fraud conspiracy, admitting that he and others billed West Haven for legal, lobbying and consulting services that were never provided.
DiMassa and a business partner, John Bernardo, also a former West Haven city employee, pilfered nearly $637,000, prosecutors said.
Bernardo pleaded guilty to wire fraud and was sentenced to 13 months in prison in March.
In a second scheme, DiMassa and another business owner, John Trasacco, conspired to submit fraudulent invoices from Trasacco’s companies to the city, netting nearly $432,000 in COVID-19 aid. Nearly all of that went to Trasacco, who was sentenced to eight years in prison in March after a jury convicted him of fraud.
The final conspiracy involved DiMassa and his wife, Lauren DiMassa, and the theft of nearly $148,000, authorities said. The couple submitted phony requests for payments by the city related to a youth violence prevention program. Those pilfered funds were not federal coronavirus aid.
Lauren DiMassa, who is pregnant with the couple's second child, pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced in March to six months in prison. She recently reported to prison.
In addition to his prison sentence, Michael DiMassa was ordered to pay nearly $866,000 in restitution to the city of West Haven. His codefendants were ordered to pay restitution to make up the rest of the stolen money.
“The defendant was a public official elected to serve his constituents,” prosecutors wrote in their sentencing documents. “Instead, he completely betrayed that trust by stealing public funds for his own benefit."
DiMassa resigned from the Legislature and the city of West Haven after his arrest in 2021.
He had cited several reasons for leniency including his lack of any previous criminal record, his testicular cancer and being able to care for his children.
This story has been updated.