Second West Haven city employee charged in COVID relief funds investigation

New Haven

WEST HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — John Bernardo, a West Haven City Hall employee, was arrested Thursday on charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and wire fraud in connection to an investigation of the use of COVID relief funds in the city, according to the Department of Justice.

Bernardo, 65, is a housing specialist with the Community Development Administration in West Haven.

Bernardo’s arrest 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.

According to the DOJ, as alleged in the 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.

From February to September, the complaint alleges that the City of West Haven paid Compass Investment Group a total of $636,783.70 and that Bernardo received at least $45,000 of these funds.

Read the full affidavit here:

Bernardo appeared in court Thursday morning before U.S. District Judge Robert M. Spector in New Haven. He was released on a $250,000 bond.

Bernardo’s attorney, Tara Knight, had this to say following her client’s court appearance: “Mr. Bernardo has an impeccable record, has never been arrested, 65-years-old, former firefighter, injured in the line of duty. We need this to play out in court…All the allegations are just that… allegations. He’s presumed innocent and we need this to play out in court.”

RELATED: Mayoral race heating up in West Haven amid scandal in the city

Following Bernardo’s arrest, Mayor Nancy Rossi released the following statement:

“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. 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. 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.”

City Councilman Barry Lee Cohen, a candidate for mayor, sent the following statement to News 8 Thursday:

”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 ensure the integrity of Tuesday’s election.”

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