Former Lee Police Chief Charged with Fraud and Money Laundering
BOSTON—The former Chief of the Lee Police Department (LPD) was charged today in U.S. District Court in Springfield with wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering.
Joseph Buffis, 56, of Pittsfield, Mass., was charged today in a superseding indictment with three counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, and four counts of money laundering. On Aug. 8, 2013, Buffis was charged in an initial indictment with extortion and three counts of money laundering.
According to the superseding indictment, as the Lee Police Chief, Buffis solicited public donations on behalf of the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund (Toy Fund), ostensibly to use for toy purchases, primarily by sending notices on LPD letterhead to a local newspaper, The Berskshire Eagle, for publications in its print and online editions. The Eagle regularly published Buffis’ Toy Fund notices. Buffis’ notices were materially fraudulent and false in that they failed to disclose that Buffis was using a substantial part of the donations for his personal use. Based upon Buffis’s solicitations, individuals provided both cash and check donations to the Toy Fund for distribution to needy families. In addition, others donated toys to the Toy Fund, thus providing Buffis with a reserve of toys that he could provide to applicants without having to use Toy Fund monies.
As alleged in the superseding indictment, from January 2007 through December 2011, Buffis deposited 706 checks into the Toy Fund account from 343 different donors totaling $52,105. During this same period, Buffis deposited cash into the Toy Fund account only once: a deposit of $145 on Nov. 23, 2010. Buffis wrote only one Toy Fund check of $250 to a needy family in December 2009. From Jan. 1, 2007 through Jan. 31, 2012, Buffis wrote approximately 53 checks totaling approximately $51,044, a substantial portion of which he used for the benefit of himself and his family. These checks included checks written to Buffis and/or “Cash” and deposited into accounts which he owned with family members.
Also, in February 2012, Buffis extorted a $4,000 check, a donation payable to the Toy Fund, from two individuals who were facing prostitution-related charges. Buffis then deposited the check into the Toy Fund’s bank account and quickly withdrew $3,990 of these funds in three checks that he wrote to “Cash” but deposited into a joint bank account that he operated with his wife. Buffis used the diverted funds to pay various personal expenses. When law enforcement commenced an investigation into this activity, Buffis repeatedly lied about the disposition of these funds.
In addition, soon after Buffis became Chief in 2011, he arranged for the Town of Lee to provide the LPD with four iPhones—one for himself and three for other LPD officers. Rather than distribute the three iPhones to his LPD officers, Buffis gave them to his wife and their two children for their own personal use. From October 2011 to August 2013, Buffis caused the Town of Lee to mail Verizon Wireless a series of checks totaling approximately $5,091 for the phones he gave to his wife and children.
The charging statutes provide a sentence of no greater than 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000 on each count. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. Sentences are imposed by a federal district court judge based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz; Vincent B. Lisi, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Field Division; and Timothy P. Alben, Commissioner of the Massachusetts State Police, made the announcement today. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow of Ortiz’s Springfield Branch Office.
The details contained in the superseding indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.