Buffis in federal custody after losing bid for sentencing delay (copy)

A federal judge Friday denied a motion from former Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis to vacate, set aside or correct his prison sentence, imposed after his extortion conviction in 2015. 

SPRINGFIELD — Onetime Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis weathered another loss in court Friday, when a federal judge balked at the disgraced former official's request to vacate the sentence imposed after his extortion conviction in 2015.  

Judge Mark G. Mastroianni denied Buffis' motion to vacate, set aside or correct the 27-month federal prison sentence he imposed after a three-week trial about six years ago. In an order filed in U.S. District Court, Mastroianni said that Buffis received adequate representation from his defense attorney at trial, and that an instruction given to the jury was proper. 

In a motion Buffis filed on his own behalf last June, he contended that his defense lawyer at trial, Lori Levinson, and his appellate attorney, Seth Kretzer, were so inept that his constitutional right to representation was violated.

A jury concluded that he persuaded a Lee couple to provide a $4,000 donation to the toy fund he oversaw, in exchange for dropping prostitution-related charges against them.

As partial grounds for his motion to vacate, Buffis claimed that Levinson failed to investigate evidence that could have impeached the credibility of several prosecution witnesses. He also asserted that Levinson failed to argue during closing statements that Buffis' decision to drop the charges against the couple was unrelated to the donation. 

But, Mastroianni was unpersuaded. He said in his Friday order that those "alleged deficiencies" cited by Buffis "do not come close to showing a failure to test the prosecutor's case" against him. Mastroianni went on to say that Levinson had "conducted vigorous cross-examinations of all the government's witnesses" and called Buffis' contention about his lawyer's closing statement "a difference of opinion about trial strategy, not an error of constitutional proportion." 

The judge also cited the fact that Buffis was acquitted of 10 charges, and found guilty of only the lone extortion charge, as evidence that his defense lawyer properly did her job.       

Throwing cold water on Buffis' gripes with Kretzer, his Texas-based appellate attorney, Mastroianni wrote that decisions Kretzer made during his failed appeal were "professionally reasonable."  

Finally, Mastroianni, shooting down Buffis' allegation that a jury instruction was "unclear," said the jury received proper instructions, so, the former police chief's claim that his right to due process had been violated was "without merit."  

Buffis received a 27-month federal prison sentence, followed by two years of supervised probation, in May 2016. At the time, Mastroianni condemned Buffis' actions as "corrupt." 

"It was corrupt behavior," he said. "It's deeply, deeply offending to the criminal justice system to have any police officer involved in such conduct."

A federal appeals court upheld his extortion conviction in 2017. Buffis later was ordered to forgo his pension, valued at about $1 million.

Amanda Burke can be reached at aburke@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6296.

Cops and Courts Reporter

Amanda Burke is Cops and Courts Reporter for The Berkshire Eagle. An Ithaca, New York native, she previously worked at The Herald News of Fall River and the Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise.