DiMassa business partner, a West Haven City Hall employee, charged with wire fraud | #phishing | #scams

WEST HAVEN — City Hall employee John Bernardo was arrested Thursday on a federal wire fraud charge stemming from the circumstances of the federal case against his business partner, former state Rep. Michael DiMassa, according to the Department of Justice.

Bernardo is charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, federal authorities said. He was released following a court appearance. He appeared before U.S. District Judge Robert M. Spector in New Haven.

DiMassa was arrested last month and charged with one count of wire fraud after allegedly transferring more than $600,000 in federal pandemic relief funding from City Hall to a business bank account set up for Compass Investment Group LLC. Bernardo is a principal in Compass, records show.

Spector unsealed the case against Bernardo during the court appearance, where Bernardo was accompanied by his attorney Tara Knight. According to the warrant affidavit, after the city of West Haven made payments to Compass, money was withdrawn and allegedly deposited in Bernardo’s account on more than one occasion. Federal authorities have alleged that none of work for which Compass bill the city was done.

On Thursday, wearing a light gray long-sleeved shirt, dark gray slacks and glasses, Bernardo sat in one of Courtroom 4’s leather chairs, beneath an imposing portrait of a former magistrate judge.

“Mr. Bernardo has no criminal record. He’s 65. He was a firefighter for 26 years,” Knight told the court, adding that Bernardo was injured in the line of duty several times.

Assistant United States Attorney Ray Miller, who is prosecuting the case, said in court Bernardo could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted. He also could be fined twice the amount of money involved in the case, amounting to roughly $1.2 million, Miller said.

Following the hearing, the prosecutor declined to say whether he planned to seek the maximum fine.

For the prosecution to proceed and for Bernardo to enter a plea, the court must confirm there is probable cause, Spector told. the courtroom. He set a probable cause hearing for Nov. 24. but noted the event will not occur if a grand jury indicts Bernardo before then or if Bernardo requests more time to review the charges.

Knight informed Spector her client intended to pursue the latter option.

Bernardo was released on a $250,000 bond secured in part by real property – in this case, his West Haven home.

Under the conditions of his release, he is not permitted to have contact with DiMassa or with any victims or potential witnesses. He may, however, speak with municipal employees regarding employment-related procedural matters.

“Mr. Bernardo worked for the city of West Haven for several years. He’s on paid administrative leave right now,” Knight said in court. “Housekeeping” issues, such as the need for Bernardo to turn over his work phone, have necessitated some contact with the city, she said.

The court also ordered Bernardo to surrender the two firearms he owns along with his passport.

Mayor Nancy Rossi said, “As we continue forward with the investigation into this alleged horrific crime, I am happy to see that those suspected of wrongdoing and fraud are being held accountable for their actions.

Bernardo was listed as a principal in Compass Investment Group LLC with DiMassa in January, according to records from the secretary of the state. The listed address for the business is Bernardo’s home address.

Investigators reviewed a bank account associated with Compass Investment Group and reportedly found seven checks made payable to the business by the city of West Haven, ranging from $11,847.50 to $87,650 from Feb. 12 to April 30.

According to court documents, an invoice was filed on Feb. 17 for “COVID-19 Legal + Site work” reportedly performed for the city Health Department “that included 180 hours of Consulting Service-COVID 19 Site Support, 24 hours of Consulting Service-Legislative Review Executive Orders COVID-19, and 38 hours of Consulting Service-Support Staff Services” for $14,256.

The following day, a check was issued to Compass Investment Group and the day after that it was deposited into the business bank account. Investigators said on Feb. 22 a check was made payable to DiMassa for $8,000, and on Feb. 26 a second $8,000 check was made payable to DiMassa and a $3,000 cash deposit was made to Bernardo’s personal bank account.

Investigators said that on Feb. 24, an invoice to the city’s Health Department claimed similar services by Compass Investment Group were provided for $41,667.50 worth of work. On March 1, a check was issued to the business and deposited into a bank account the same day. On March 4, investigators allege DiMassa made a $10,000 withdrawal and a $10,000 check was issued made payable to Bernardo, which was deposited the following day.

Bernardo works as a housing specialist for West Haven’s Community Development Administration.

In court, Knight mentioned Bernardo’s 26 years of service as a firefighter.

“I am sick to my stomach over this alleged theft, and I want all those individuals involved to be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. If found guilty, they need to go to jail,” Rossi said in a statement.

“As I stated early on when I found and reported this probable fraudulent activity, I will continue to update our residents when information becomes available and when its release will not compromise the ongoing investigation,” she said.

Meanwhile, the city is preparing for a recount of Tuesday’s mayoral election at City Hall on Sunday. Results with the city’s registrar of voters, prior to the mandatory recount, reflect Rossi defeating Republican challenger Barry Lee Cohen, a 10th District City Council member, by 29 votes on Election Day.

In a statement, Cohen claims there was not enough city oversight.

“Unfortunately, our city continues to be negatively impacted by the complete lack of oversight by the Rossi administration to oversee any expenditures over $500 as she pledged to do when taking office in 2017. This is why myself and my supporters wish to ensure every ballot cast was done so appropriately to secure the integrity of Tuesday’s election,” he said.

Rossi, in response, said Cohen is a city councilman and a member of the Finance Committee who could have raised concerns about internal controls if he had any at the time.

Sec. of the State Compass Investment LLC Record by Helen Bennett on Scribd

This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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