UNITED STATES NEWS

Conn. ex-city official gets prison for COVID-19 funds theft

Mar 22, 2023, 11:26 AM

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — A former Connecticut city employee was sentenced to 13 months in prison on Wednesday for his role in the theft of more than $600,000 in federal coronavirus relief funding by a company he founded with former state Rep. Michael DiMassa.

John Bernardo, 66, also was ordered to pay nearly $59,000 in restitution, representing the amount he personally received from the scam, prosecutors said. U.S. District Judge Omar Williams in Hartford ordered Bernardo, who remains free on bail, to report to prison on May 22.

Prosecutors said Bernardo, who pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy last year, formed Compass Investment Group with DiMassa in January 2021. The company fraudulently billed the city of West Haven for nearly $637,000 in COVID-19 relief funds for legal, lobbying and consulting services never rendered, authorities said.

At the time, Bernardo was a housing specialist for West Haven and DiMassa was an aide to the city council with authority to approve reimbursements of COVID-19 expenses.

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.

DiMassa, a West Haven Democrat who resigned from both the city and the legislature after his 2021 arrest, pleaded guilty to wire fraud conspiracy charges in November related to the total theft of more than $1.2 million in virus relief funds from the city. He is set to be sentenced next month.

Two others were charged in the thefts. DiMassa’s wife, Lauren DiMassa, pleaded guilty last year to wire fraud conspiracy and is set to be sentenced Thursday. Business owner John Trasacco was convicted by a jury of fraud charges in December and awaits sentencing.

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Conn. ex-city official gets prison for COVID-19 funds theft