Protect and defend may have turned into pervert and defraud, according to federal prosecutors. The US Attorney's Office charged that former Lee, Massachusetts police chief Joseph Buffis diverted $51,044 in donations for a toy fund to his family's bank account for their personal use over a five year period, as a press release explained.
The 56-year-old Buffis faces "three counts of wire fraud, mail fraud, and four counts of money laundering." He allegedly asked the public for donations on Lee Police Department letterhead for the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund. The fund was supposed to raise money to buy toys for local needy children and provide assistance during the holidays for their families. People donated cash, checks, and toys. Prosecutors say that the physical toys gave Buffis a "reserve" that he could distribute while skimming money out of the fund for himself and his family.
Between January 2007 and December 2011, prosecutors claim that Buffis brought in $52,105 in 706 check donations from 343 donors. In the same period, he only once deposited cash: $145 in November 2010. Supposedly only one check, for $250, was ever written to a needy family, and that was in December 2009.
Buffis has pled not guilty to the charges. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, five years of supervised release, and upwards of $250,000 for each count.
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.
These charges are only the latest targeting Buffis. In August 2013, he was indicted on money laundering and extortion charges, according to WAMC radio. At the time, he was charged with extorting $4,000 from a Lee couple, Tara Viola and Thomas Fusco, who had been accused of running a prostitution business out of an inn they owned, as the price for dropping the charges. Buffis then supposedly deposited the money into the toy fund and then took most of it out for his personal use.
According to WAMC, the town of Lee fired Buffis last August, although reportedly not because of the prosecution. He had allegedly improperly billed the town for his personal cell phone use, according to the Berkshire Eagle. The US Attorney's Office put the total billing at $5,091. Buffis allegedly had ordered four iPhones for himself and three officers for official use and instead kept one and gave the other three to his wife and two children.
Charges against Viola and Fusco were reinstated and are scheduled for a pre-trial hearing in October, according to a Berkshire Eagle report. The couple's defense attorney had asked for a delay until then because the two were "cooperative witnesses for the federal government" and asked that the Buffis case first be resolved.
Lee hired a new police chief last year, according to WNYC-TV. Buffis had been on the force for a total of 34 years.