Couple in Lee prostitution case due back in court
LEE -- A local couple accused of sex for sale at their inn -- a case that triggered the federal probe of former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis -- are due back in court this fall.
Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco, owners of the Inn at Laurel Lake, are scheduled to appear for a pretrial hearing Oct. 16 in Southern Berkshire District Court. The hearing was supposed to occur April 30, but was continued at the request of the defendants' attorney, Elizabeth Quigley, of Pittsfield.
"[My clients] are cooperative witness for the federal government," she said. "After the [Buffis] case is resolved in Springfield, we'll deal with their case."
Quigley referred to Buffis facing extortion and other charges that grew out of his handling of the prostitution case.
Viola and Fusco have been free on personal recognizance since last fall when the Berkshire District Attorney's office refiled charges first brought against them more than two years ago. Viola is accused of sexual conduct for a fee, with both facing one count each of keeping a house of prostitution and together conspiring to do so.
The couple pleaded not guilty to the allegations at their arraignment Oct. 10, 2013.
The charges stem from an investigation in January 2012 by Lee police assisted by the Berkshire County Drug Task Force.
According court documents, Lee police had alleged at the time that Viola and Fusco attempted to discretely advertise the prostitution service on the Internet under the guise of Viola's massage business conducted at the inn.
Local authorities said they were alerted to the online advertisement that had been posted for some time. A month later, in February 2012, Buffis allegedly coerced the couple to donate $4,000 to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, a holiday toy fund he once controlled.
In return, he said he would not pursue the charges, according to federal authorities. The case was eventually settled during a closed proceeding in Southern Berkshire District Court.
Following an initial investigation by the Berkshire District Attorney's Office, DA David Capeless, requested the U.S Attorney's Office take over the probe into Buffis' actions. In November 2012 the FBI raided in his office at Lee Memorial Town Hall and Pittsfield home, seizing evidence against the former chief.
Almost a year later, a federal grand jury returned four indictments: one count of extortion and three counts of money laundering. Buffis has denied the charges.
Meanwhile, Viola and Fusco are still trying to sell the inn they put on the market last fall. They have listed the century-old inn with Harvest Moon Realty based in Chester, according to a local Realtor website.
The Berkshire Multiple Listing Service has the asking price at $835,000 -- down from $995,000 in December -- for the 19-room building and the two acres it sits on overlooking Laurel Lake from Route 20. For tax purposes, the Lee Board of Assessors have the property valued at almost $1 million.
The inn went on the market just after Thanksgiving and the property seems deserted. Quigley said Viola and Fusco still occupy lodging, but wouldn't comment on whether the couple have had potential buyers for the real estate.
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