Inn at Laurel Lake on the auction block today
LEE -- The Inn at Laurel Lake, the historic lakeside lodge at the center of a scandal that took down former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis, goes on the public auction block today.
A Springfield firm is auctioning off the 133-year-old inn on behalf of TD Bank, the mortgage holder of the two-acre property that overlooks Laurel Lake from Route 20, according to a recent legal notice in The Eagle.
An attorney representing TD Bank on Wednesday would only confirm the on-site auction remains scheduled for 11 a.m., referring further questions to Aaron Posnik & Co. That firm didn't return a phone call seeking more information.
The listing states potential bidders will be able to tour the three-story building between 9 and 11 a.m. The potential sale also includes the furnishings and equipment at the inn.
The owners, Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco, are accused of offering sex for sale at the inn. Buffis faces federal extortion and other charges that grew out of his handling of the prostitution case.
Their attorney, Elizabeth Quigley, has said the couple is cooperating with the federal government's case against Buffis in U.S. District Court in Springfield.
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. They are scheduled to appear for a pretrial hearing Oct. 16 in Southern Berkshire District Court.
Since late last year, the owners have been trying to sell the inn through Harvest Moon Realty based in Chester, according to a local Realtor website. The Berkshire Multiple Listing Service had the asking price at $995,000; for tax purposes, the Lee Board of Assessors have the property valued at $917,000.
Neither Quigley, nor the auctioneers returned calls from The Eagle seeking further comment on today's scheduled auction.
Built by the William W. Boardman family in 1881, the Inn at Laurel Lake first opened its doors to travelers in 1900, according to the current owners website. The lodging changed hands several times, before Fusco and Viola purchased it in 1996. They added a deck that overlooks the inn's private beach.
The couple advertised the lodging as a three-season resort that specializes in large group events during the off-season from November through April.
The case against the couple stems 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 tried 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 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.
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