Prosecutors depict Joseph Buffis as "brazen liar" in sentencing motion


SPRINGFIELD — "A longtime thief and a brazen liar."

That's how federal prosecutors describe former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis in their motion to have a wide range of conduct considered when he is sentenced on an extortion charge.

The government also is seeking a hearing to present evidence that Buffis looted about $31,000 from the bingo account of a Lee church between 1999 and 2007.

Contacted Thursday, Buffis' attorney, Lori Levinson said she had not seen the motion and could not directly comment on it.

She did say however, she would object to the use of any uncharged or acquitted conducted when considering sentencing and will file her own response motion within two weeks.

Buffis was tried with a total of 12 counts; one of extortion, seven of money laundering, three of wire fraud for allegedly looting $120,000 from a toy fund he ran. He was acquitted in June of the laundering and wire fraud.

He also faces an additional charge of mail fraud for allegedly putting his family's cellphone plans on the Town of Lee's account. That charge was dropped by federal prosecutors, but may be taken up at the state level.

Though Buffis only was convicted of extortion — for strong-arming a Lee couple into making a bogus $4,000 donation to the toy fund in exchange for dropping pending charges against them — prosecutors are asking the court to consider Buffis' "acquitted, dismissed and uncharged conduct," when crafting a sentence.

"The sentencing court has broad discretion in determining an appropriate sentence in order to punish and deter the criminal and protect society," the 23-page motion reads in part.

The motion, which was filed Wednesday, cites a section of U.S. Code: "No limitation shall be placed on the information concerning the background, character and conduct of a person convicted of an offense... for the purpose of imposing an appropriate sentence."

In their motion, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Stephen H. Breslow and Deepika B. Shukla, requested a hearing to review evidence that Buffis stole money from a St. Mary's Church account between 1999 and 2007.

Buffis took over the account in 1998 and changed the address to where its bank statements were sent at least three times, including his home address, prosecutors allege. He made 31 withdrawals from the account during the period being discussed, totalling $30,092, leaving a balance of $20.33.

Prosecutors also cited evidence and testimony from Buffis' three-week trial to reinforce their assertion that Buffis lied to investigators about the fate of cash donations to the toy fund and that portions of his testimony during trial were false.

Among those falsehoods were statements by Buffis that he did not deposit toy fund donations into any other accounts he had access to, that he purchased toys for the fund at Costco and that he used his personal Visa card to purchase toys and reimbursed himself from the toy fund account, prosecutors said.

The motion goes on to suggest Buffis also embezzled money from the Lee Police Association account, of which he was also in control.

Those actions include depositing about $3,700 worth of LPA checks into the toy fund, then writing checks from that account to himself and to his credit card accounts, writing another $8,630 worth of checks from the LPA account to himself or to "cash," and paying $1,300 from the LPA account to his wife's Sears account.

Finally, prosecutors also want Judge Mark G. Mastroianni to consider the evidence behind Buffis' mail fraud charge.

Between October 2011 and August 2013, the Town of Lee paid about $5,000 to Verizon for cellphone service.

As police chief, Buffis was entitled to a cellphone, which the town would pay for or he could be reimbursed for the cost of using his own.

According to prosecutors, Buffis added phone lines for his wife and two children to the account. When asked by the Lee Police Department's administrative assistant about a "huge increase" in the phone bills, Buffis said the extra lines were for members of the department's task force, the motion said.

That information came to light during a hearing with the Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance, which concluded Buffis' actions, "amounted to theft," and the town presented substantial evidence that Buffis was fired from his post due to "deliberate misconduct."

Buffis' sentencing has been rescheduled several times since his conviction and is tentatively set for March 3, but could be set back again, depending on how the court decides to address the new motions.

The sentencing hearing itself may span multiple days, Mastroianni said at a previous hearing in the case.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the maximum penalty Buffis faces on the extortion conviction is 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Buffis' sentence will is expected to be less than the maximum.

Contact Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249.


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