Buffis in federal custody after losing bid for sentencing delay

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SPRINGFIELD — Just over one year since being convicted of extortion, former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis began his 27-month prison sentence Tuesday.

Buffis sat stoically when he was informed he would need to surrender to U.S. Marshals inside the U.S. District Courthouse and would be transported to the Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls, R.I.

Unlike his sentencing hearing in May, there were no tears shed nor calls to vote for Donald Trump.

Buffis and his attorney, Lori Levinson, had filed a motion seeking to delay the imposition of the sentence amid security and medical concerns.

Levinson said the federal prison where Buffis will serve his sentence had not yet been determined and she had misgivings whether the facility where he would be held in the interim would have adequate security and medical care.

She said Buffis requires treatment for high blood pressure and diverticulitis and had suffered a heart attack in the past. She also raised concerns about Buffis being housed with inmates he may have had a hand in arresting and prosecuting, while the Bureau of Prisons made a final determination where he will be incarcerated.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Deepika B. Shukla objected to postponing the imposition of the sentence, noting Buffis would be in a federal facility and it was unlikely he'd be held alongside people he's helped put behind bars.

"From the government's perspective, it's a year from conviction now," Shukla said. "There's no reason for further delay."

If there are concerns for Buffis' safety at Wyatt, Shukla said, he can be held in segregation until the final determination is made on where he will be incarcerated.

Judge Mark G. Mastroianni, who presided over Buffis' three-week trial last year, denied the motion and said Tuesday that he had recently toured the Wyatt facility and felt it was more than capable of addressing Buffis' medical and security concerns.

Mastroianni said while sending a police officer to prison is relatively rare, "This is not the first time an individual with unique security concerns has been sentenced," he said.

Levinson, who participated in Tuesday's hearing via telephone, said her concerns would be lessened if Buffis is taken directly to Wyatt.

U.S. Marshals present at the hearing said Wyatt would send transportation to Springfield to collect Buffis and he would be transported there the same day.

Buffis was convicted on June 9, 2015, of one count of extortion for strong-arming a Lee couple into making a bogus $4,000 donation to a charity toy fund he ran in exchange for the promise of dropping pending criminal charges against them.

The same jury acquitted him on 10 other counts related to his alleged embezzlement from that same toy fund, including fraud and money laundering.

While Buffis' acquitted conduct could not be used to help formulate an appropriate sentence, Mastroianni did allow for consideration information that Buffis looted money from the Lee Police Association's account while he was in control of it.

After all of the calculations were complete, prosecutors asked Mastroianni to consider a sentence of 33 months, followed by two years of probation, 200 hours of community service and $4,000 restitution. Levinson countered with a suggestion of straight probation and community service.

Mastroianni imposed the 27 months, but told Buffis he may have given him less time had he taken responsibility for his crime and acknowledged his wrongdoing.

Instead, Buffis submitted a letter to the court prior to his sentencing in which he stated, even after being found guilty, that he'd done "the right thing at the right time for the right reasons."

"I have not used my hands to take what does not belong to me," Buffis wrote.

In that same letter, Buffis went on to lament how the trial had affected him and his family, including prohibiting them from target shooting together due to the loss of his firearms license and the potential loss of his pension, which he said would be worth close to $1 million, should he live to 70.

"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 garnered nearly three dozen other letters of support, praising his good nature and work ethic and sought leniency from the court.

In contrast, several other letters to the court took Buffis to task for besmirching his position as a police chief and the department as a whole.

Current Lee Police Chief Jeffrey Roosa 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."

Edward Lahey, a retired FBI agent, who was a member of the search committee which selected Buffis for chief, submitted his own letter in which he told the court Buffis "disgraced his shield and his department."

"This man needs to learn the hard way the difference between right and wrong," Lahey wrote. "Something he has obviously ignored throughout most of his life."

Buffis served on the Lee Police force for approximately 34 years before he was fired in August 2013 for allegedly adding members of his family to the town's cellphone account.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, an inmate's location will not be made public until after that determination has been made and after they arrive at that facility.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.


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