Joseph Buffis Trial: Prosecutors want judge to factor in other conduct at sentencing
SPRINGFIELD — When former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis is sentenced in federal court next year, prosecutors hope a judge will consider evidence not presented at the trial as well as evidence connected to charges on which he was acquitted.
That evidence includes allegations that Buffis stole $30,000 from the account of a Catholic church in Lee, which was not included at his trial on extortion, money laundering and mail fraud charges.
The alleged theft of the church funds came to light just prior to the start of the trial last spring, but Judge Mark G. Mastroianni barred prosecutors from bringing it up on grounds that it would be prejudicial.
Buffis was convicted in June of one count of extortion and acquitted on the remaining 10 financial charges. He has not been charged in connection with the missing church money.
Prosecutor Steven Breslow said Thursday he plans to argue for a sentence based on the entire range of charged conduct by Buffis, though no firm date has yet been set for that sentencing. Buffis also is facing mail fraud charges for allegedly adding cellphone lines for members of his family to the Town of Lee's account while he was serving as chief.
Breslow said that charge involves about $5,000 and may be taken up at the state level and prosecuted by the Berkshire District Attorney's Office, though a final decision hasn't yet been made.
Judge Mark G. Mastroianni said rather than wait for a determination of the fate of the mail fraud charge, the sentencing process should get underway with the preparation of a pre-sentencing report from the Probation Department.
Mastroianni estimated it would be eight to 10 weeks before a draft of that report would be ready and another two weeks to prepare the final version, meaning it will likely be at least March 2016 before Buffis is sentenced.
Breslow said he would likewise expect Buffis' attorney, Lori Levinson, to introduce evidence from outside the trial in her argument for a lighter sentence, such as Buffis' years of service as a police officer.
Thursday's hearing was scheduled, in part, to address concerns raised by Levinson, on whether portions of a news article containing remarks from a juror were going to be used by Mastroianni when considering a sentence.
If that were to be the case, Levinson argued, she wanted an opportunity to respond prior to sentencing.
Mastroianni said his interest in seeking out the article was only to perhaps glean some insight into a juror's trial experience and not for consideration in sentencing and he said to do so would be inappropriate.
Buffis was convicted of extorting a $4,000 donation from a Lee couple to the toy fund he ran in exchange for dropping pending criminal charges against them.
He was accused of looting about $120,000 from that fund and using the money to pay personal expenses.
Levinson argued Buffis was an incompetent bookkeeper who made legitimate purchases of toys and paid himself back with cash, but kept no receipts or records.
He was convicted on June 9 after a trial that lasted about 3 weeks.