Log In

Reset Password
  • MENU
    Saturday, June 10, 2023

    Woman expecting baby gets 6 months in prison for theft of $147K in COVID funds

    WEST HAVEN — Lauren DiMassa, wife of former Democratic state Rep. Michael DiMassa, was sentenced to six months of prison followed by six months of home detention Thursday for her role in enabling the theft of more than $100,000 from the city of West Haven.

    The sentence, as handed down by a judge, would see her reporting to prison roughly two months before she is expected to give birth to her fourth child, her second with Michael DiMassa.

    Prosecutors submitted a sentencing memorandum calling Lauren DiMassa's crime — depositing 16 checks totaling $147,776.10 for work she did not provide paid out through a youth violence prevention program grant — a "serious offense" that was neither aberrant nor uncharacteristic for the repeated and sustained nature of the scheme.

    Yet in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ray Miller sought to add context to downplay Lauren DiMassa's overall culpability in the scheme compared to her three co-defendants.

    "Ms. Knox," he said, using Lauren DiMassa's maiden name, which is used in the indictment, "is substantially the least culpable member of that group." He said her culpability in the scheme was "wholly driven by Michael DiMassa," who created the false invoices and walked them through West Haven's payment process.

    Lauren DiMassa's attorney, Francis O'Reilly, noted that his client is a mother of three and is 23 weeks pregnant with a due date of July 18. He said a sentence that avoids any jail time would avoid disrupting her "extraordinary" familial duties and inflicting more harm upon her children.

    "These children need their mother to support them," he said.

    U.S. District Judge Omar Williams interrupted, saying he did not wish to be "cynical" before noting that Lauren DiMassa's current pregnancy was conceived after her arrest. He said it presents a legal conundrum as to how to "distinguish" between defendants who could potentially become pregnant to avoid a harsher sentence.

    "The court has concerns when we look at arguments the court should be lenient on someone who has gotten pregnant post-arrest," he said.

    O'Reilly said he was giving his opinion without having discussed it with Lauren DiMassa, who had begun gently crying beside him, that family planning decisions may become tricky when a 38-year-old defendant seeks another child with a father who has a pending sentence with expected prison time of his own.

    Williams opted to include incarceration as part of Lauren DiMassa's sentence, giving her until May 23 to report — roughly two months before her due date. O'Reilly said he expects to appeal for a later surrender date, after Lauren DiMassa, weeping louder, leaned over to him and said her pregnancy is high-risk.

    Williams said the innocence of Lauren DiMassa's children and the "lifelong impact" on a child born to a prison inmate was not lost on him, but he would consider her own culpability for crimes committed as an adult in delivering his sentence. He said Lauren DiMassa should have been the one considering potential consequences to her children when committing the crime.

    Lauren DiMassa, speaking briefly, apologized to the city and its residents.

    "I am completely embarrassed by my actions and my grave lack of judgment," she said. "I will never be part of anything like this ever again."

    Williams said he was convinced by her "genuine" reaction that she felt the weight of the consequences of her actions and would not repeat her behavior, but he said he could not ignore the harm caused by her actions — stealing funds intended to assist youths, with the falsified invoices claiming services were being rendered for things such as youth counseling and support groups.

    "To now argue your own motherhood should serve to reduce your sentence almost borders on the offensive," Williams said.

    To be more lenient, he said, would "send a perverse message defendants should get pregnant to avoid a harsh sentence."

    "I can't imagine a mother who lost a teenager to suicide hearing or reading about you asking for leniency" to support her own children, he said.

    In addition to incarceration and home detention, Williams said Lauren DiMassa is required to pay the full restitution from her theft before the conclusion of five years of supervised release: $147,776.10.

    "It took you less than one year to take this money, I'm giving you five years to pay it back," he said.

    West Haven Mayor Nancy Rossi and West Haven Corporation Counsel Lee Tiernan were in court for the sentencing Thursday as they had been for the sentencing of former city housing specialist John Bernardo, who was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to pay $59,000 in restitution for his role in collaborating with Michael DiMassa to create a shell company to steal pandemic relief funding from West Haven.

    Rossi submitted a letter to the court urging that, as an adult, Lauren DiMassa "needs to take responsibility for her actions."

    "She diverted and stole money from a Federal Program designed to help children in need in the City of West Haven," she wrote.

    As she had in a letter submitted before Bernardo's sentencing, Rossi said Lauren DiMassa's arrest "resulted in a cascade of negative impact" to the city, attributing negative effects on the city's bond rating, its economic development prospects and a glut of negative media attention to the arrests.

    "The city now has increased State Oversight and significant administrative expenses resulting from the crimes. The impact will be felt for a generation," she wrote.

    Michael DiMassa, who pleaded guilty to three counts of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and John Trasacco, who was found guilty of wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud following a two-week criminal trial last December, have not yet been sentenced.

    Comment threads are monitored for 48 hours after publication and then closed.