Independent firm to audit use of federal CARES Act funding by all CT towns, cities

Connecticut

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — State officials are planning to roll out an audit of the usage of federal COVID relief money by all municipalities in Connecticut.

In total, the state received an estimated $60-million in CARES Act funding.

On Nov. 19, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) notified all 169 cities and towns in Connecticut that it has hired an independent auditing firm to review their spending of federal CARES Act money, which municipalities received to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the notification letter below:

This announcement comes after former State Rep. and former Administrative Assistant to the West Haven City Council Michael DiMassa was charged with wire fraud, accused of scamming the city out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in COVID relief funds.

John Bernardo, a West Haven City Hall employee, was arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud following DiMassa’s arrest.

According to the DOJ, as alleged in a criminal complaint, DiMassa and Bernardo formed Compass Investment Group, LLC. Starting in February, the complaint alleges that the 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.

Republicans have been urging Gov. Ned Lamont to order this statewide audit, saying the West Haven case was a wake-up call.

State Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly (R), said, “What were the checks and balances that the money we were entrusted with? That it actually went to the purpose of helping people.”

Matt Hart, the town manager of West Hartford, said, “It’s a good process, but it’s incumbent upon municipalities and I think the vast majority across Connecticut understand this, that we are going to be held responsible to manage those funds in a responsible way.”

CARES Act fund receipts will have to show many things, including:

  • Details on how the expense related to the pandemic
  • Who signed off
  • Did the expenditure follow the rules

Towns and cities with more than 50,000 residents – like West Hartford – got their money directly from the federal government. Smaller towns had to wait for the state to disperse the money.

Sen. Kelly added, “By no means is the round of audits the end of the inquiry.”

He has asked that the OPM come before the legislature’s Appropriations Committee to explain the protocols.

There was a second traunch of money. The state also got millions in American Rescue Plan dollars. Communities want to use it for long-term capital improvements. Congress is debating how to move forward.

OPM said in the notification letter that CohnReznick LLP is the accounting firm that will review the municipal records. The office said staff will be in touch with municipalities soon to coordinate their engagement with the auditor.

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