FILE - CT Kevin Kelly 2-7-2021

Connecticut state State Sen. Kevin Kelly, R-Stratford, chats with colleagues Feb. 7, 2021, during opening session at the state Capitol in Hartford.

(The Center Square) – Republican leaders in Connecticut are again calling for a public hearing into the executive branch’s monitoring of the distribution and spending of COVID-19 relief funds.

Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly, R-Straftord, and House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, echoed calls for a public hearing in a statement obtained by The Center Square following the alleged theft of more than $600,000 in COVID-19 relief funds in the city of West Haven.

An FBI investigation into the matter resulted in the arrest and subsequent resignation of Michael DiMassa, a Democratic state representative, who was charged with wire fraud.

"It’s now over two weeks since we called on our colleagues to join us in holding public hearings,” Kelly and Candelora said in the statement. “The public demands and deserves answers from the governor's administration. Our questioning of this system should be a bipartisan effort by lawmakers to get answers and rebuild public trust. The executive branch established a system to distribute COVID-19 relief funds without legislative input. Within that system, an alleged egregious misuse of funds occurred, in a town the state was already supposed to be watching very closely. We need to determine if lax practices were in place by the state, preferably in a bipartisan effort with full public transparency so that we can take immediate action to strengthen safeguards."

The Republican leaders in the statement said the city spent the funds on a 20-person marching band and transportation, commemorative “thank you” coins for municipal employees, and Christmas decorations, rather than using it for aid and relief amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The city was already being watched by the state due to a record of poor fiscal management, the lawmakers noted.

In a tweet, Senate Republicans allege West Haven spent $7,674 to hire the 20-person marching band from New York City, spent $8,404 on the “thank you” coins, in addition to the alleged $600,000 theft.

GOP Leadership first called for a public hearing in the days following DiMassa’s arrest for the alleged fraud.

In a letter to Gov. Ned Lamont, leadership said, “the people of Connecticut had no choice but to trust that the Governor’s administration would create a system to properly distribute and safeguard these funds intended to help residents and communities recover during one of the most challenging times of a generation.”

The GOP leadership said the alleged theft was “unacceptable for government to suggest that current protocols are sufficient because this problem has now come to light.”

In the letter, legislators proposed a set of 20 questions ranging from what the process is for towns to apply for Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act payments to what controls are in place to monitor how the funds are spent.

Associate Editor

Brent Addleman is an Associate Editor and a veteran journalist with more than 25 years of experience. He has served as editor of newspapers in Pennsylvania and Texas, and has also worked at newspapers in Delaware, Maryland, New York, and Kentucky.