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Judge Cites Lack Of Responsibility As Reasoning For Former Chief’s Prison Sentence

The federal courthouse in Springfield, Mass.
The federal courthouse in Springfield, Mass.

After multiple court delays, the former police chief of Lee, Massachusetts on Tuesday was sentenced to 27 months in prison for extortion.In June 2015, Joseph Buffis was found guilty of coercing a Lee couple who ran an inn to donate $4,000 to a toy fund he oversaw in exchange for dropping pending prostitution charges against them. Berkshire Eagle reporter Bob Dunn has covered the trial and sentencing. He says Judge Mark Mastroianni, in court in Springfield, explained that the sentencing reflected Buffis’ abuse of his position.

“The judge said as much, he was considering a lower sentence until he saw this lack of responsibility, this lack of contrition on Mr. Buffis’ part,” said Dunn.

In a recent letter to the judge asking for probation instead of a prison sentence, Buffis wrote that he still believed he’d done “the right thing at the right time for the right reasons,” as reported by Dunn. Buffis did apologize to the extortion victims, his family and the people of Lee before the judge announced his sentence.

“He did show remorse,” said Buffis' attorney, Lori Levinson. “I’m just assuming that for the judge, it was too little, too late. But, I do believe he expressed his remorse in court yesterday.”

The judge tacked on two years of probation, 200 hours of community service and ordered Buffis to repay the $4,000 to the victims. Levinson says she will definitely appeal the conviction and ask for an appellate attorney to be assigned to represent Buffis so a fresh set of eyes can look at the case.

In a letter to the court, Lee Police Chief Jeffrey Roosa said Buffis used his badge to say “give me your money or else.” Roosa said that is not “honorable behavior” and wrote that he, the police department and the town of Lee will forever be associated with “the former chief who extorted people in uniform.” Roosa served as a sergeant under Buffis and was hired as chief in December 2013 after Buffis was fired. Reached Wednesday morning, Roosa said he had no comment because the matter is over and the department is moving forward.

As Dunn points out, the judge suggested Buffis’ failure to recognize that he had abused his position stemmed from a “deep psychological issue.”

“He [Mastroianni] did feel that somewhere along the line in Mr. Buffis’ career something changed,” Dunn explained. “Because he does have supporters. There were 30 some odd letters talking about what a hard-working, nice family man he is and he’s probably all of those things.”

After Buffis emotionally embraced his family, Dunn reported these were the only remarks Buffis made to members of the media outside the courthouse:

"Thank you, God bless America, and vote for Donald Trump."

No date has been set for when Buffis will start his sentence. It’s not clear where he will serve his time. Levinson sticks by her statement that probation and community service would’ve been appropriate, saying Buffis has a lot of skills to offer.

“He’s going to be locked away for about two years and it’s going to be extremely hard on his family financially and emotionally,” Levinson said. “He could be out in the community providing service, which is what he had committed entire working life to.”

Buffis was found not guilty of 10 other counts related to his handling of the toy fund, including money laundering and fraud. Prosecutors alleged Buffis stole roughly $120,000 from the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, which he controlled, over a 12-year period. Buffis says he would buy toys with his own money and then reimburse himself through the fund.

After Buffis was indicted, the town of Lee fired him in August 2013, claiming he used town funds to pay for his family’s cell phone plan.

Jim is WAMC’s Assistant News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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