A Connecticut Lawmaker has been forced to resign, following accusations that he stole over $600,000 of federal Covid relief money — and used a portion of the funds to buy gaming chips at the Mohegan Sun casino.
Michael DiMassa, who was an administrative assistant to West Haven City Council, stepped down from that role, days after he was arrested for wire fraud on October 20.
It is alleged that DiMassa, along with business partner John Bernado, charged the money for consulting services, tough no such work ever took place. A press release from The US Department of Justice U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Connecticut, set out the allegation as follows:
“In January 2021, DiMassa and Bernardo formed Compass Investment Group, LLC. Beginning in February 2021, Compass Investment Group LLC fraudulently billed the City of West Haven and its “COVID-19 Grant Department” for consulting services purportedly provided to the West Haven Health Department that were not performed. From February 2021 through September 2021, the City of West Haven paid Compass Investment Group a total of $636,783.70”
That figure constitutes over half the money allocated to West Haven for Coronavirus relief as part of the CARES Act. The press release continues:
“It is further alleged that DiMassa made several large cash withdrawals from the Compass Investment Group LLC bank account, 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.”
DiMassa Cites Addiction
DiMassa appeared before U.S. District Judge Sarah A.L. Merriam, who said that she “understands” that he is “in treatment” for a gambling addiction.
How long that treatment has been ongoing is unknown. Questions will be asked as to how genuine DiMassa’s addiction may or may not be. After all, Dimassa’s arrest warrant cites Mohegan Sun Patron Gaming records, which allege 10 cash transactions, for gaming chips totaling $57,700. A significant figure no doubt, but less than 10% of the total alleged to have been stolen.
It is easy to see why the authorities in question would push the addiction angle. They would rather DiMassa be seen as a helpless victim than a cynical manipulator, so the claim of gambling addiction will be seen as opportunist in some quarters.
Problem Gambling Hard to Detect
Nevertheless, it is not an affliction to dismiss lightly. Jeremy Wampler is the clinical manager in the Problem Gambling Services unit at the CT Dept. for Mental Health and Addiction Services.
In a recent in interview with ctpost.com he explained that, “It’s extremely difficult” to identify a gambling addict. “In our field, gambling is considered the hidden addiction because there are no signs.”
“We know that in terms of problem gambling it’s an area that a lot of people don’t have a lot of base knowledge in,” Wampler added. “Unlike substance use and mental health, a lot of people don’t learn about these things in schools.”
Reacting to the news of DiMassa’s resignation, Gov. Ned Lamont was unequivocal: “If the allegations are true, he has not only broken the law but also betrayed the public trust,” he said. Adding that DiMassa had “no choice but to resign. The citizens of West Haven and all of Connecticut deserve honest government.”
Ironically DiMassa’s resignation comes just months after he voted to legalize gambling in CT, and less than a week after online sportsbooks went live in state. If found guilty, DiMassa could face up to 20 years in jail.