WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) – A group of people in West Haven has filed a complaint against the mayor saying she handed out “COVID bonuses” to her inner circle.
Mayor Nancy Rossi is defending the decision and said it was compensatory time allowed by a union contract.
Former Democratic State Party Chair in the early 1990s, Attorney Ed Marcus, now represents four West Haven citizens. His clients claim Rossi used COVID relief funding to pay bonuses to political appointees.
“They felt the town people were really being swindled in a sense,” Marcus said.
In the complaint filed with state auditors and the Attorney General, West Haven residents claim the mayor’s chief of staff, corporation counsel, and former city council administrator, as well as embattled former State Representative Michael DiMassa, all received the money.
Marcus called it an improper use of federal funds.
“In fairly substantial amounts varying between 18 and $30,000,” Marcus added. “It just takes incredible nerve to do something like that and she seems to have a lot of that.”
Rossi, a Democrat, said the payments are legal. “At no time was it considered a bonus. Appointed officials follow the 1103 contract so they get compensatory time as well.”
Rossi said the employees worked extra during the pandemic.
“Anything over 35 hours, they’re allowed compensatory time and when you get to a certain amount, you get a payout for compensatory time,” Rossi said.
News 8 also obtained a whistleblower letter sent to a state oversight board. The letter claims the bonuses were wrong.
The State Office of Policy and Management has confirmed an independent forensic audit is underway.
In a statement, Secretary Melissa McCaw tells News 8, “Once the audit and investigation is complete we will take all appropriate steps to address any findings of waste, fraud, or abuse and address any internal control weaknesses. In addition, OPM will cooperate fully with the ongoing federal investigation.”
The FBI has charged DiMassa with wire fraud unrelated to the acceptance of additional pay.
“My guess is this investigation is far from over and I would be surprised if there are not some additional arrests,” Marcus said.
In the meantime, Rossi said her chief of staff now has to approve any expense over $5,000.
“The best way to move forward is to get the facts, give everybody the facts. Put controls in place to make sure that this never happens again,” added Rossi.
In addition to the state forensic audit, West Haven could have an audit by the Inspector General of the U.S. Treasury. If federal auditors find anything wrong, the money may have to be returned.
Councilman Barry Lee Cohen, who is running for Mayor of West Haven, has released a statement calling on the City Council to form an independent committee to investigate Rossi and her administration.
“This is outrageous! The Mayor appeared before the City Council last evening without taking any responsibility for the scandal that her administration created, disgraced our great city, and brought state and federal agencies to our steps. It will be more outrageous if the City Council sits idle and allows Mayor Rossi to think that she can simply move on. This council cannot truly believe the Rossi administration can be trusted to fix a problem that it created! The mayor constantly reminds us that she is a CPA, but when her numbers do not add up, she blames others for the count,” Cohen said.
DiMassa is due back in federal court in December. The State Representative seat remains empty until state officials schedule a special election.