DA to reinstate prostitution charges against owners of Lee inn


PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless says he plans to reinstate the charges against a Lee couple who were accused of running a prostitution business out of their inn.

"We can't ignore serious allegations like prostitution," Capeless said.

In January 2012, following a month-long investigation by the Lee Police Department and members of the Berkshire County Drug Task Force, the Lee police applied for a criminal complaint charging Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco, who own The Inn at Laurel Lake on Route 20, with soliciting sexual favors for a fee, keeping a house of ill fame, and conspiring to promote prostitution.

According to Eagle files, 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. Police said they were alerted to the online advertisement that had been posted for some time.

Capeless said the Lee Police had asked the task force to help in the investigation and that one of the officers went in undercover at the inn.

A month later, in February 2012, Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis allegedly coerced the couple to donate $4,000 to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, a holiday toy fund he controlled. In return, he said he would not pursue the charges, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"I was quite concerned when I learned that the charges hadn't gone forward," Capeless told The Eagle.

The results of that show cause hearing in the prostution case were sealed.

"There is a nondisclosure agreement among the parties involved," Buffis told The Eagle after the hearing. "The findings of the magistrate will not be made public."

Buffis explained at the time, "This is typical of non-violent, misdemeanor cases. The reason to keep them at the show-cause level is it gives normally law-abiding citizens an unblemished record."

Capeless said his office looked into the details of the case. The DA's office later passed the investigation to the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office because of the close working relationship between local prosecutors and Lee police.

Capeless said that unlike the Buffis investigation, his office will be handling the case against the couple.

The DA said he understood that Viola and Fusco had cooperated with the investigation, but that because of the nature of the allegations he would be pursuing criminal charges against them.

The couple's attorney, Elizabeth J. Quigley, called it an "unfortunate decision" on the part of the DA's office, especially considering that her clients are "victims" who have "cooperated fully with all levels of law enforcement, including the Berkshire District Attorney's Office."

She said her clients had cooperated and would continue to cooperate with the U.S. Attorney's Office on the case against Buffis.

"I never want the attention taken away from the fact that these people are victims and should be treated as such," Quigley said.

To reach Andrew Amelinckx:
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