SPRINGFIELD >> "I am not some criminal mastermind."
That statement by former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis was part of a letter he wrote to U.S. District Court Judge Mark G. Mastroianni asking to be sentenced to probation, rather than prison, on his June 2015 extortion conviction.
Current Lee Police Chief Jeffrey Roosa, however, said in his own letter to the court that Buffis "used his badge to say, 'Give me your money, or else.' This is not honorable behavior."
Buffis is due to be sentenced in U.S. District Court in Springfield on Tuesday for strong-arming a Lee couple into making a bogus $4,000 donation to a charity toy fund he ran in exchange for the dropping of criminal charges against them.
Sentencing has been rescheduled several times since his conviction on one count of extortion. He was acquitted of 10 other charges connected to his alleged mishandling of the toy fund accounts and thefts from them.
Prosecutors are seeking four years and three months incarceration, followed by three years of supervised release, $4,000 restitution to the couple and forfeiture of $4,000.
Buffis' attorney, Lori Levinson, is asking Mastroianni to consider sentencing Buffis to an unspecified period of probation with whatever conditions the court deems appropriate, including community service and restitution.
Mastroianni recently ruled that Buffis' alleged theft of funds from the Lee Police Association was proven to the court to a great enough degree during his trial to also consider that conduct at sentencing.
In his letter, Buffis did not admit to any wrongdoing, despite the guilty verdict.
"I believe today, in my heart and mind, as I did nearly four years ago, that I was doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons," he said. "I have not used my hands to take what does not belong to me.
"If this was so wrong, why did I do it in a courtroom and record it; why would I risk my entire career and life, as it was, for $4,000?" he said. "I will probably not be able to collect my pension, which, if I lived to 70 would amount to about $900,000 over those years."
"In what other career would a person be punished with essentially a $900,000 fine for a $4,000 theft?" part of the letter reads.
Buffis went on to talk about his service as a police officer, including tending to children killed in car accidents, the saving of lives, comforting surviving family members or victims of crimes, having weapons pointed toward him and several physical ailments.
He lamented the media coverage of his case, saying it, "impacted me and my family unalterably."
Buffis told the judge about his difficulties in finding new employment and said if he is sent to prison, he will lose the $15-per-hour job it took him 18 months to get.
"I have been a police officer since I was 19 years old. I do not possess many other marketable skills."
"I am now a convicted felon. Forever labeled as a 'crooked cop,' " he said. "That is not who I am."
Buffis' letter is among approximately 34 submitted to Mastroianni from friends, his current employer and family members, including his wife, daughter, daughter in-law and sister in-law, some of whom testified at his trial.
"Joe Buffis belongs home with his family and not in a prison cell," wrote his wife, Janet.
"This case is about $4,000," Janet Buffis wrote, adding the extortion victims, "are free to get on with their lives as if nothing has happened, and my family suffered and is suffering greatly."
Other letters described Buffis as a hard-working, considerate family man.
One couple who said they've known Buffis for over 30 years said it would be a "travesty" if he served any jail time.
Others spoke of how the trial, with its accompanying media coverage, put burdens not just on Buffis, but his family as well.
A Pittsfield couple said Buffis is "hands down the biggest Boy Scout we know."
Letters provided to the court from members of the Lee Police Department paint a much darker portrait of Buffis, his behavior and his legacy.
In its sentencing memorandum, the government provided a letter written collectively by members of the department.
"The very foundation of policing is found in having the respect, trust and support of the community. Mr. Buffis chose to exploit that trust for personal gain," part of that letter reads. "(Buffis) fooled many of us into believing he was a man of honor that could be trusted."
Chief Roosa, who served as a sergeant under Buffis, was more blunt in his individual letter.
"Joe stole my honor," he said. "I am ashamed of myself for not seeing through Joe's [dishonesty]. As a police officer, I have a pretty good BS meter and it failed me in this case."
Whether those letters from members of the department can be considered at sentencing is another point of contention between the legal teams.
Levinson filed a motion seeking to keep out impact statements from anyone except the couple of which Buffis was convicted of extorting.
She argued no one else, including members of the Lee Police Department, can be considered "victims" under the Crime Victims' Rights Act of 2004.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow said in his motion the court should reject the notion that Buffis' extortion was a first offense that was otherwise out of character for him.
"Rather, the court should correctly view (Buffis') misconduct, which included the embezzlement of LPA funds over many years, as constituting a repeated breach of the public's trust and his officers' confidence," part of the motion reads.
Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.
Text of letter
Thank you for presiding over my case in such a professional manner. I really do appreciate the way you handled the trial.
After nearly 35 years in law enforcement, beginning as a patrol officer and ending with being a Chief, I find myself asking you to consider giving me a second chance as I have done for many others who have crossed my path when I was in a position to do so.
I believe today, in my heart and mind, as I did nearly four years ago that I was doing the right thing at the right time for the right reasons. I was trying to give Tara Viola and Tom Fusco the second chance that I believed they deserved. I am truly sorry for their plight and the ensuing media coverage at the time. But they were given a second chance and their case was dismissed and the $4,000 returned to them and in fact has been in the hands of the Berkshire DA since April of 2013.
One would have to ask, if this was so wrong, why did I do it in a courtroom and record it, why would I risk my entire career and life as it was, for $4,000? I will probably not be able to collect my pension, which if I lived to be 70 would amount to about $900,000 over those years! In what other career would a person be punished with essentially a $900,000 fine for a $4,000 theft?
During the course of my professional career, I have wiped blood from the faces of children killed in car accidents, so that their parents could see them as sleeping angels, not bloodied bodies, I have used my hands to save lives with emergency medical care, to hug parents who have lost their children, to comfort husbands or wives who have lost their partners, to comfort victims of crimes and at times hide my own tears. I have not used my hands to take what does not belong to me. My body has been beaten, pushed, shoved, spit upon, been subjected to guns and knives being pointed at me, suffered a heart attack, high blood pressure, numerous surgeries and a variety of other maladies from the rigors of being a good police officer. I am not some criminal mastermind, I am/was a proud public servant.
Even if I was found not guilty of all the crimes I was charged with, my career and life have been forever altered. The extensive media coverage, both in print and TV, have impacted me and my family unalterably. It has been very difficult to find employment in any venue in which I had skills.
I have been a police officer since I was 19-years-old, I do not possess many other marketable skills. I was able to obtain employment at a 35 unit USDA project for $15.00 per hour. If I am sentenced to jail, I will lose this job, which took me 18 months to get. My license to carry a firearm has been taken away. Along with my wife and children, we all have enjoyed target shooting and practicing together for many years.
I am now a convicted felon. Forever labeled as a "crooked cop." That is not who I am. My life and the lives of my wife, daughter and son have been forever damaged. We have all suffered greatly. Therefore, my request to you, Your Honor, is for you to sentence me to a term of probation and community service, so that I can continue working as a contributing member of society. I have always tried to do what was right and good, and I know that by keeping me out of jail, and not making me and my family burdens on society, that i can continue to do good things.
Thank you for your consideration.