West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi declared victory over her Republican rival Barry Lee Cohen Tuesday night by a mere 24 votes, which will force an automatic recount in a city that has become backdrop for a federal wire fraud investigation over the misuse of federal COVID-relief funds.
Rossi skated to an easy victory in 2019, beating her Republican challenger by 20 points, but following the FBI’s arrest of Democratic State Representative and West Haven City employee Michael DiMassa in October, Rossi faced an uphill battle for reelection.
According to the court affidavit submitted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, DiMassa – who resigned from the General Assembly and the City of West Haven – created a fake consulting company and billed the city for $636,000 in COVID-relief funds.
Rossi announced that there were COVID funds missing from the city shortly before DiMassa’s arrest. Follow-up reporting and investigation revealed that Rossi had authorized DiMassa to sign off on COVID-relief spending, the city’s finance director had approved some of the invoices supplied by DiMassa’s company and that DiMassa’s company shared an address with West Haven’s Housing Specialist John Bernardo.
DiMassa allegedly withdrew large sums of cash received by his company, Compass Investment Group, LLC, from the city and used that money for large cash buy-ins at Mohegan Sun. The Justice Department says the investigation is on-going.
According to the affidavit, the City of West Haven never contracted for services with Compass Investment Group, LLC.
In an interview with Fox 61 News, Rossi said the campaign was a “hard fight,” and that it had been a “rough few weeks, as everybody knows.”
“I understand that I’m at the top of the city, but I’m also going to do my best to move forward, and we’re going to find out through a forensic audit what exactly happened and do our best to fix it, so it doesn’t happen again,” Rossi said.
Democrats largely swept the municipal elections in West Haven, but the mayor faced the tightest election challenge in recent years, where she has usually enjoyed a wide victory margin.
Cohen told reporters he was not yet conceding the election and would wait for the official recount.
“In a 5 to 1 Democrat town, for her to declare victory with 24 votes, which is much less than the 5,100 votes she got last time, this is basically a condemnation of her record of lack of transparency,” Cohen said.
West Haven already faces significant financial hardship and is under the eye of the state’s Municipal Accountability Review Board after the city found itself with a nearly $50 million deficit.
Gov. Ned Lamont has ordered a special election for voters in West Haven and parts of New Haven to elect DiMassa’s replacement.
The Office of Policy and Management said that it is conducting an audit of COVID-relief funds sent to municipalities to ensure they are being used appropriately.