A raid on City Hall Friday and calls for a forensic audit into the expenditure of federal COVID-19 relief funds, reverberated through West Haven, with federal, state and city agencies collaborating in a joint probe. Mayor Nancy N. Rossi ended days of speculation and rumor with the announcement of the investigation in a YouTube announcement. Meanwhile, FBI investigators searched City Hall and took away possible evidence.
“Over the last two weeks I have personally reviewed many of West Haven’s federal CARES Act expenditures. I have come across several large expenditures hat cause me great concern. Some of these expenditures appear improper and may be potentially fraudulent,” she said in the online announcement.
The city received $1.2 million in CARES Act funding, earmarked for expenses incurred during the pandemic.
Saying it was her responsibility to bring this to the attention of city residents, she said her review was “troubling.”
“After reviewing the expenditures, I suspect that some of these funds might have been diverted, and not used for the purpose they were intended,” she said.
Rossi sent her concerns to the city’s auditor, Clifton, Larson, Allen, as well as the Office of Policy & Management, which earlier voiced concerns about expenditures.
Rossi was curt in her remarks and warned that any irregularities that rise to the level of illegality will be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
She has requested a forensic audit by made by the city and will make a formal request to the City Council for the funding.
Meanwhile, City Council Chairman Ron Quagliani, a former chief of the WHPD voiced his own concerns regarding the allegations of wrongdoing. He said the coordination of federal, state and city officials in the investigation is a welcome approach.
“In my experience it is appropriate, and I welcome, having both administrative and law enforcement investigations occurring concurrently as they focus on very different issues,” he said. “The audits underway typically focus on processes and controls while law enforcement investigations focus on violations of the law.”
Quagliani said the presence of federal law enforcement is to be expected considering the sourcing of the funds.
“Since the irregularities involve federal grant funds it would make sense that federal law enforcement investigates any potential criminal wrongdoing although the Council has not been notified of such an investigation taking place at this point,” he said.
Regarding the council’s participation in the investigation, he was emphatic.
“The Council will do everything we can to ensure a thorough investigation and swift action once the audit and investigative findings are known,” he said.
With the municipal election only two weeks away, how this news will affect voter confidence is not known. GOP candidate Barry Lee Cohen said the probe hurts the city.
“The ongoing federal and state investigations, in addition to the FBI agents descending on city hall is a scar on our city,” he said.
Cohen, who has been critical of Rossi’s leadership, said the investigation shows it was lacking.
“The public trust has been breached by this mayor. We are witnessing not only fiscal mismanagement, but incompetence,” he said.
“We have a mayor that does not lead, points fingers at others and is unfit to serve. Not only did this mayor hold onto information for two weeks, she had full knowledge of the vendor in question since they were hired by her months ago.”
He said problems should have been seen at the beginning.
“You don’t need to be a certified public accountant (CPA), to easily learn that city employees were hired to facilitate the distribution of Covid funds. This is outrageous,” he said finally. At press time the investigation was still ongoing with no arrests or people of interest identified.