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Ex-Connecticut Rep. Michael DiMassa testifies in West Haven fraud case

DiMassa.PNG
Andy Brown
/
CT Mirror
Former state Democratic Rep. Michael DiMassa exits the federal courthouse in Hartford after pleading guilty to three federal conspiracy charges on Nov. 1.

Michael DiMassa, a former state Democratic lawmaker, took the stand in federal court in Hartford on Monday, where he testified about the inner workings of West Haven city hall and how he personally walked hundreds of thousands of dollars in allegedly fraudulent checks out of the city’s finance department.

DiMassa, who previously worked as an assistant to the West Haven city council, pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiring with three other people to steal state and federal funding from West Haven, a city that has been mired in financial crisis for decades.

As part of his plea deal, DiMassa also signed a cooperation agreement with federal prosecutors, and as a result, he is now serving as the star witness in the ongoing trial of John Trasacco, a Branford resident and one the alleged co-conspirators. Trasacco has been charged with wire fraud and one related federal conspiracy charge, which can carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years.

Federal prosecutors on Monday began by asking DiMassa to explain to the jury how he and Trasacco came to know each other before the two men eventually used a string of companies to allegedly steal more than $431,000 from the city’s bank accounts.

DiMassa told the jury that he met Trasacco for the first time at a cigar bar in late 2020. He explained how Trasacco introduced him to an allegedly illegal sports betting operation and how he paid his gambling debts at an Italian restaurant in Branford that Trasacco also frequented.

DiMassa said he’d been a regular gambler for some time at that point and that he would pay his debts in cash at the restaurant by slipping the money to people under the table.

DiMassa, 31, then filled in the gaps between the financial records from West Haven city hall and other evidence that was presented by the federal prosecutors, and he described, in detail, many of the ways that he assisted Trasacco.

He told the jury how he repeatedly met Trasacco at the Italian restaurant and a warehouse in Branford to receive fraudulent invoices, purportedly created by L&H Company, one of the businesses that was formed by Trasacco.

He said he used his position in West Haven city hall to submit those allegedly bogus invoices and to convince the city’s former finance director to approve the payments to those companies.

DiMassa also testified that he personally asked officials in the city’s finance department to hold the checks for those invoices so that he could pick them up and hand-deliver them to Trasacco.

“It was just easier to pick up the check,” DiMassa testified.

In return for allegedly pushing those payments through the city’s finance department, DiMassa said, he received several kickbacks from Trasacco.

In at least two instances, DiMassa said, Trasacco slipped a “wad of $100 bills” into his pocket while he was drinking at the Italian restaurant in Branford.

“He slipped money into the left pocket of my suit pants,” DiMassa said. He said one of the payments was for $5,000.

Trasacco also allowed DiMassa to use his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., for free, while he and his girlfriend visited Hollywood, Universal Studios and Rodeo Drive.

That type of relationship continued, DiMassa said, even after he grew concerned about the allegedly fraudulent invoices being detected due to the large amount of money the company received and the small amount of supplies Trasacco had provided.

The invoices that Trasacco’s company submitted were for thousands of masks and other supplies. But DiMassa said Trasacco only provided one small shipment of those items, which included 280 masks.

To try to avoid notice, DiMassa said, he persuaded Trasacco to use different companies and to change what type of services they were billing the city for.

As part of that effort, DiMassa said, he helped to organize several meetings between Trasacco and Thomas McCarthy, West Haven’s public works director.

During those meetings, DiMassa said, Trasacco convinced McCarthy to hire another of his companies to pick up leaf bags for residents in the city.

That company, KAT Environmental, was paid at least $85,000 to pick up that yard waste for the city, according to invoices reviewed by the Connecticut Mirror.

The payments to KAT Environmental were not part of the federal indictment filed against Trasacco, and McCarthy has not been accused of anything by federal prosecutors. But the meetings between the three men were discussed at length during the trial to paint a picture of the connections that DiMassa helped Trasacco to develop.

DiMassa said the business relationship between West Haven and KAT Environmental quickly soured when city residents started complaining that their leaf bags were being left on the curb.

At that point, DiMassa said, he helped to organize a follow-up meeting between McCarthy and Trasacco at a diner in West Haven.

At the diner, DiMassa said, Trasacco offered to resolve some of the problems with the leaf bags by delivering political advertising for West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi and several city council members ahead of the primary election in 2021.

McCarthy, who was also the treasurer for Rossi’s mayoral campaign, took Trasacco up on that offer, according to DiMassa, and he gave Trasacco a stack of “political literature” to deliver to homes in West Haven.

McCarthy and Rossi did not respond to requests for comment for this story.

The relationship between KAT Environmental ended not long after the political primary, DiMassa told the jurors, but he and Trasacco’s relationship did not.

At that point, DiMassa said, Trasacco suggested they use a third company, JIL Sanitation Solutions, to submit new invoices to the city.

According to DiMassa, Trasacco decided JIL Sanitation would bill the city for sanitizing public buildings using UV light, which is something he had read about online.

Emails obtained by federal prosecutors show Trasacco emailed DiMassa several invoices from JIL Sanitation. And DiMassa said he followed the same steps to cut a check from the city.

The cleaning services were never provided, DiMassa said, but public records show the company was paid more than $184,000 for purportedly sanitizing city hall, the West Haven police station and several other buildings.

JIL Sanitation did not do business with the city for long, however.

According to DiMassa, the alleged scheme came to a halt in early October 2021 after members of the media and the FBI learned of the payments that DiMassa allegedly diverted to Compass Investment Group, another company that he controlled.

DiMassa said he came into work one day and learned that the FBI was in city hall and that the CT Mirror was asking about payments to Compass Investment Group.

At that point, DiMassa said, he called Trasacco to inform him that “the jig is up.” He told Trasacco that federal officials were meeting with the city’s attorney and that the CT Mirror was asking questions.

Trasacco’s defense attorneys did not get a chance to question DiMassa under oath on Monday.

But the federal prosecutors sought to preemptively explain to jurors why DiMassa, who benefited from the alleged scheme, was now willing to testify.

DiMassa told the jurors that he wanted to “make some amends” for the damage he caused in West Haven.

But he also acknowledged, after further questioning, that he was hoping the federal judge in the case would look more favorably on him when he is sentenced early next year.

Launched in 2010, The Connecticut Mirror specializes in in-depth news and reporting on public policy, government and politics. CT Mirror is nonprofit, non-partisan, and digital only.