Former Lee Police Chief Convicted by Federal Jury of Extortion
BOSTON – The former chief of the Lee Police Department (LPD) was convicted today in U.S. District Court in Springfield following a three-week trial of extorting a $4,000 payment from a couple facing prostitution charges in Southern Berkshire District Court.
Joseph Buffis, 57, of Pittsfield, Mass., was convicted by a federal jury of extortion under color of official right. U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni scheduled sentencing for Oct. 19, 2015.
As the Lee Police Chief, Buffis solicited and controlled public donations to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, a children’s holiday toy fund. On Feb. 21, 2012, Buffis extorted a $4,000 check “donation,” payable to the toy fund, from two individuals who were facing prostitution-related charges. Buffis then deposited the $4,000 check into the toy fund’s bank account and quickly withdrew $3,990 of these funds in three checks that he wrote to “Cash,” but deposited into a personal bank account that he owned with his wife. Buffis used the diverted funds to pay various personal expenses. When law enforcement commenced an investigation into this activity, Buffis repeatedly lied about the disposition of these funds.
Buffis faces a second trial on one count of mail fraud. According to the allegations of the superseding indictment, soon after Buffis became Lee Chief of Police in 2011, he arranged for the Town of Lee to provide the LPD with four iPhones – one for himself and three for other LPD officers. Rather than distribute the three iPhones to his LPD officers, Buffis gave them to his wife and their two children for their personal use. From Oct. 5, 2011 to Aug. 21, 2013, Buffis caused the Town of Lee to mail Verizon Wireless a series of checks totaling approximately $5,091 for the phones Buffis’s gave to wife and children.
Today, the jury also acquitted Buffis of three counts of wire fraud, one count of mail fraud, and seven counts of money laundering. Those charges were related to Buffis’s operation of the toy fund.
The extortion charge provides a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Vincent B, Lisi, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Colonel Timothy P. Alben, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Steven H. Breslow and Deepika Shukla of Ortiz’s Springfield Branch Office.