More charges may be coming for former Lee Police chief Joseph Buffis
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SPRINGFIELD -- More charges against Joseph Buffis, the former Lee Police chief, may be coming by the end of the summer.
In U.S. District Court in Springfield, Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow said the investigation into further alleged crimes by Buffis related to the holiday toy fund he once administered is "almost concluded." He said they hoped to have superseding indictments on the new charges by the "end of the summer," sometime around the beginning of September.
The new allegations would be going before a grand jury soon, he said.
Buffis, 56, is currently facing one count of extortion by wrongful use of fear and under color of official right and three counts of money laundering. Federal law enforcement officials allege he coerced a Lee couple, Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco, into donating $4,000 to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund in February 2012 in exchange for not going forward with pending prostitution charges against them. Buffis, who managed the toy fund at the time, then transferred the money from the couple to his own account and used it for personal expenses.
He later lied to investigators about it, according to the U.S. Attorney's office.
On Aug. 29, Buffis denied the charges against him.
Earlier that month the Lee Board of Selectmen fired Buffis because he allegedly improperly billed the town for his personal cellphone use.
Levinson said he is currently doing "odd jobs."
Buffis was not present for Wednesday's hearing. He remains free on a $100,000 unsecured bond.
These newest allegations revolve around the decade prior to the 2012 charges in which the government believes Buffis diverted "tens of thousands of dollars" from the toy fund for personal use.
Breslow said he has turned over discovery material related to that investigation to Buffis' attorney, Lori H. Levinson, but said there would likely be more information coming "as witnesses testify for the superseding indictments."
On Wednesday, Magistrate Judge Kenneth P. Neiman, citing the age of the case, asked whether the government could move forward on the existing charges and bring a separate case for any new charges that may arise.
"This is a complicated case. It's not like most cases," Breslow said in regard to the length of time it was taking to bring the new charges to the grand jury.
Breslow said the new allegations are "broader in scope, but related ... They are overlapping."
After speaking with Levinson, Breslow agreed to moving the current case forward.
The case will now go to the District Judge, the next step in the process toward resolving the case, either by trial or plea.
A plea deal is unlikely, according to Levinson.
In court she said there was "no realistic possibility of a plea."
The trial would take about three weeks to try, according to the attorneys. No trial date has been set.
Under federal guidelines, on his current charges, Buffis could serve between 41 and 51 months in federal prison if convicted at trial and between 30 and 37 months if he changes his plea.
There was a question on who would hear the case since Senior District Judge Michael A. Ponsor assumed semi-retired status in 2011 and the newest District Judge, Mark G. Mastroianni, who was sworn in on Monday, served as the Hampden County District Attorney.
Breslow said he didn't believe there would be any problem with Mastroianni sitting on the case since the alleged crimes took place in Berkshire County.
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