Board will listen to public before making decision
Berkshire Eagle Staff
LEE -- The Board of Selectmen expect to rule this week on whether Police Chief Joseph Buffis will continue to serve his suspension without pay or benefits while under federal indictment on extortion and money laundering charges.
The three-member panel on Tuesday night will hold a public hearing solely on the issue of compensation as the suspension and case against Buffis aren't up for debate, according to Chairman Gordon Bailey.
The hearing is part of the board's regularly scheduled meeting at 7 p.m. in Memorial Town Hall.
"We are not talking about the merits of the charges," he said. "We won't let people digress into personality or how good or bad of a job [Buffis] has done."
Bailey said public comment will weigh heavily into the board's decision that should come immediately following the hearing.
"We'll be listening carefully to what the people have to say," he added.
On Aug. 9, Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason suspended Buffis without pay or benefits until the adjudication of his case. The suspension came one day after a federal grand jury indicted Buffis on charges he allegedly extorted money from a Lee couple and funneled it through a Christmas charity he once managed.
On an interim basis, Nason appointed former Lee Police Chief Ronald Glidden -- the man Buffis succeeded in September 2011 -- to lead the department. Glidden retired from the position after serving as chief for 17 years.
Meanwhile, Buffis' attorney, Lori Levinson, says she and her client plan to attend the hearing with the police chief to watch the proceedings in silence.
"The bottom line, he's not making any public statements at all," said the Great Barrington lawyer, who did comment on Buffis' employment status.
"This is an allegation," she said. "He shouldn't be suspended without pay."
Authorities have said Buffis will be summonsed to appear in court, not arrested, but an arraignment date hasn't been set.
Buffis faces up to 20 years in federal prison on each count if convicted of the charges.
According to the U. S. Attorney's Office, in February 2012, Buffis, 55, coerced a Lee couple to donate $4,000 to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund that he controlled in exchange for a deal in which he would not go forward with prostitution related charges against them.
According to federal prosecutors, the chief then transferred that money to his own account, used it for personal expenses and lied to investigators about it.
Buffis made the couple, Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco, who own The Inn at Laurel Lake on Route 7 & 20, sign an agreement that prevented the disclosure of the deal. When the prostitution charges didn't go forward, Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless and the state police looked into the matter before turning it over to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office, the DA said.
In November 2012, the FBI and Massachusetts State Police executed search warrants at the Lee police department and Buffis' Elaine Drive home in Pittsfield.
Nine months after the raids, a federal grand jury on Aug. 8 returned four indictments against Buffis: one count of extortion and three counts of money laundering.
Capeless has said he plans on reinstating the prostitution related charges against the couple.
Meanwhile, the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund is under new management and will return this holiday season. Lee Selectman Patricia Carlino and two Town Hall officials -- all acting as private citizens -- have established a separate, nonprofit entity, to operate the charity named for the former Lee police officer who founded the original one more than 50 years ago.
The toy fund went dormant in 2012 shortly after the FBI began its nine-month investigation of Buffis that included his handling of the fundraiser that serves children in lee, Tyringham and Lenox Dale.
To reach Dick Lindsay:
or (413) 496-6233.