!!UPDATE!! HAS A SITTING CITY COUNCILOR BEEN ARRESTED OR CITED ON DRUG-RELATED CHARGES? THE WIRES ARE BURNING, THOUGH NOTHING AS OF YET HAS BEEN CONFIRMED … … BUFFIS PROBE: PLANET WAS ON IT EARLY … HERE’s THE LATEST ON A STORY THAT IS BOUND TO HAVE LONG LEGS … plus … RECAP OF COVERAGE
By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
ADD 1 AUG. 19, 2013 — Multiple sources have been burning the wires to inform us of a situation apparently related to drugs that, if true, would be a shocker and a shame. THE PLANET hears that a sitting city councilor has been arrested or cited by the feds and state police. Sources say the Pittsfield police weren’t notified. We e-mailed council president Kevin Sherman to find out what he knew: “I don’t have any information on that.” Period, end of comment, the “Sgt. Schultz” response. None of the information has been officially confirmed. Stay tuned. This may turn out to be nothing or something. Our “nose” for this kind of thing, which is usually reliable but not infallible, tells us there’s something.
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(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, MONDAY, AUG. 19, 2013) — Last year, THE PLANET tipped you off on the unusual probe into Lee Police Chief Joe Buffis. The FBI‘s presence indicated that authorities were investigating a crime that crossed state lines. The probe finally produced results when a federal grand jury looking into the case found enough evidence to indict Buffis on a count of extortion and three counts of money laundering. If convicted, Buffis would face up to 20 years in prison on each count, five years of supervised release, and a fine of $250,000.
The indictment alleges that Buffis extorted $4,000 from two people facing charges related to a prostitution. Buffis is charged with depositing a $4,000 check from the couple made out to the children’s Christmas toy fund that he managed, then withdrawing all but $10 and placing into a joint bank account that he held with his wife.
Gee, can $10 buy a Barbie doll, we wonder?
The Feds allege that Buffis extorted the money from a Lee couple, who were facing prostitution charges. Buffis is charged with then using all but $10 of the money for personal use and then lying to investigators about it.
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Here is the announcement from U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, who heads the Massachusetts District:
United States Attorney Carmen M. OrtizDistrict of MassachusettsFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: CHRISTINA DiIORIO-STERLINGAUGUST 8, 2013 PHONE: (617)748-3356Lee Police Chief Indicted for Extortion and Money LaunderingAlleged activity includes coercing payment from individuals facing prostitution chargesand diverting money through children’s toy fundBOSTON – A federal grand jury in Springfield returned an indictment today against Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis for extortion and three counts of money laundering.It is alleged that in February 2012 Buffis, 55, of Pittsfield, acting in his official capacity as Lee Police Chief, extorted a $4,000 “donation” from two individuals who were facing prostitution-related charges. The “donation” was made payable to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, a holiday toy fund that Buffis controlled. Buffis deposited the $4,000 check into the Toy Fund’s bank account and quickly withdrew $3,990 which he then deposited into a joint bank account that he operated with his wife. The diverted money was then used to pay for various personal expenses. Buffis is alleged to have lied to law enforcement about the disposition of the funds.
“To be entrusted to serve and protect is a great honor and privilege. The alleged actions of Chief Buffis disgrace the many incredible law enforcement stewards who uphold and enforce the law. Actions like these threaten the credibility of our justice system, and we will not stand idly by and allow the trust of our communities to be violated,” said United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said, “The allegations contained in the federal indictment describe a serious breach of the public trust, and my Office will continue to work with United States Attorney Ortiz and her Office to see that justice is done and order restored. It should be made clear that these accusations are made against one man, Joseph Buffis, not the Lee Police Department or any other members of its force. My Office will continue to work proudly alongside the Lee Police Department to ensure safety and justice in the town of Lee and throughout Berkshire County.”“This is another example of a successful investigation and extraordinary teamwork between the FBI, the Massachusetts State Police, United States Attorney and Berkshire District Attorney’s Offices. The conduct charged in this indictment demonstrates law enforcement’s commitment to pursue public corruption at any level. We will not tolerate these acts, especially from those who have sworn to serve and protect the community and its citizens,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Vincent B. Lisi.If convicted, Buffis faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each of the counts followed by five years of supervised release, and $250,000 fine. Buffis will be summoned to appear in court for his initial appearance.U.S. Attorney Ortiz; District Attorney Capeless; FBI Special Agent in Charge Lisi; and Colonel Timothy P. Alben, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police, made the announcement today. The U.S. Attorney’s Office would like to thank District Attorney Capeless and the Massachusetts State Police Berkshire Detective Unit for uncovering the alleged violations and initiating the investigation which led to today’s indictment.The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow of Ortiz?s Springfield Branch Office.We are seeking the public’s assistance in this case. For those who have donated cash or toys to the Edward J. Lalilberte Toy Fund or for those who haveapplied to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, please contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Springfield Resident Agency, at (413) 732-0159. Please contact the FBI if you have any information, questions or concerns regarding this matter.The details contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendant is presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.###—– 00 —–Lori Levinson, Buffis’ lawyer, speaking for her client, denied the charges. She followed with the less-that-convincing, “We must keep in mind he is innocent until proven guilty.”
Let’s examine this statement: “We must keep in mind he is innocent until proven guilty.”
Now, we all know that, and it’s good to keep in mind in any case involving criminal charges. However, when your own attorney says these words at your first public response to serious charges, it’s a reasonable question to ask: “Is that the best she could do?”
Levison said, ” … until proven guilty,” almost as if she expects that to be inevitable. “Until” instead of “if” in this usage creates a large gap in what one might believe about innocence or guilt. If a person in a similar situation faced these charges, and the charges in fact were false and known to be false by the accused and his attorney, wouldn’t you want your mouthpiece to come up with something better than, “We must keep in mind he is innocent until proven guilty”? Wouldn’t you vigorously claim your innocence and refute all charges?
It’s interesting to note that an arraignment has not been made, and the authorities seem to be taking their sweet time about it. Law enforcement officials said Buffis will be issued a summons to appear in court. In other words, he will not be arrested, which would likely happen to everyone else without connections within the cozy criminal justice system in Berkshire County.
Is there more to this case than allegations involving a measly $4,000 extortion? That would be the only explanation as to why a veteran law enforcement official, with 17 years as a respected police chief under his belt, would risk throwing his career and reputation away, if in fact that’s what Buffis did. There are lots of rumors flying about “the rest of the story,” and they shall be revealed to be truth or not as time moves forward.
In the meantime, to bring you up to speed on this case, here is a recap of previous PLANET posts on the case. Once again, our reporting functioned as a burr under the saddle of the Boring Broadsheet, the same way it happened two days ago when the BB suddenly found out about Terry Kinnas‘ victory in his Open Meeting Law complaint against the Pittsfield School Committee, of which Kinnas is a member. The state Attorney General’s office found in Kinnas’ favor and against the PSC.
Here is the sequence of THE PLANET’s coverage of the Buffis case:
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DEC. 5, 2013
Lee Police Chief FBI Probe — THE PLANET hears that it concerns missing funds, a prostitution ring, and monies crossing state lines. We hear the girls were from Cheshire. We hear that the night before the raid, the Lee Police Chief Joe Buffis visited the Egremont police department internal staff meeting and “disrespected” the officers. We hear that the FBI confirmed the house they searched at 131 Elaine Drive, Pittsfield, is the home of Buffis. Lee selectmen have refused to comment. Lee town administrator Bob Nasonhas refused to comment. The DA’s office has refused to comment. No charges have yet been filed. No arrests have been made. No one is yet accused. No crime has officially been committed. Officially.
DEC. 19, 2012
CHIEF BUFFIS? THE WORD IS BUPKIS
The FBI probe into Lee Police Chief Joe Buffis continues, as does the Iron Curtain of information on just exactly what the Feds are looking at and for, if anything? Speculation has centered around the administration of a Toys for Tots-type fund as well as prostitution activity that might have taken place at an area hotel/motel. Thus far, no charges have been filed in the case.
The Lee Selectmen, at the most recent meeting, played deaf, dumb, and blind. The board would have people believe they know nothing, not a thing, about the probe, in a small town where idle gossip qualifies as an Olympic sport. The selectmen said they hadn’t been given any information on the case, but they did not say if they tried to find out, as is their job. Could it be another case of not wanting to learn the truth, because it might embarrass the board?
“You’ll know [about Buffis] as soon as we do,” board chair Patricia Carlino told a questioner. Scant comfort. The longer the board and the Feds remain silent, the more the tongues will chatter about the innocent and guilty, if there are any.
Board member David Consolati added this gem: “It’s the Christmas season … We’re all hoping everybody’s going to be happy, wealthy, and wise and … wish the best for everyone, but as for legal questions, we cannot answer.” Well golly gee, DC, who doesn’t wish for heaven here on earth? Meanwhile, you should realize Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski want more out of you than bromides. Do your job, man. Get them some answers. Earn your keep.
A south county source with knowledge of the investigation tells THE PLANET that the FBI is looking into shipments of the fund’s money from Massachusetts to New York state. Crossing state lines would trigger the call from the FBI. The source says federal officials are looking into allegations that Buffis has been sending toy-fund money to someone in New York state. The source says Buffis’ son lives in New York state. Buffis did not return THE PLANET’s request for comment on this. Again, no charges have yet been filed, and the presumption of innocence applies to all mentioned thus far in connection with the probe.
APRIL 2, 2013
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, TUESDAY, APRIL 2, 2013) — New information has emerged about the slow-moving federal investigation into the Lee Police Department‘s administration of a toy fund. Long-time Lee cop and current police chief Joe Buffis is the fund’s manager. Buffis remains the central figure in the proobe.
Emerging key findings of the ongoing probe include, according to the Attorney General’s office:
* The Lee Police Association (LPA) has not filed required paperwork with the state Attorney General since 2004, according to the AG’s office. The eight-year lapse pertains to the Laliberte Toy Fund, managed by the association and Buffis.
* Emalie Gainey, AG Martha Coakley‘s mouthpiece, said the association “would need to register and file annual financial reports for the … funds it raised.” In other words, just because it is a “non-profit,” it must file with the AG. That procedure and requirement is the public’s best safeguard that raised monies are used as advertised.
* During the years for which the association did not file reports, the LPA raised $62,000.
* To be able to raise funds in this way, state charities “must register with and file annually” with the AG. Gainey said. ”There are, to our knowledge, no additional annual filings received by this office past 2004.”
* No evidence has surfaced that the LPA has ever filed a federal tax return as required by law. This presents a major red flag.
* The IRS said it has no records that the LPA has a Federal Employer Identification Number, which it would be required to have in order to file federal taxes required of a non-profit organization — and yet, something strange can be evidenced in the LPA’s state filings for 2001, 02, 03, and 04. The association’s four Form 990 filings leave blank the space for its employment identification number. It doesn’t add up.
* The LPA’s 2004 filing with the state lists an amount raised that is less than what the toy fund told the Boring Broadsheet for that year. Wherein lies the truth?
* In 2001, the toy fund told the state it raised no money that year. However, it told the Boring Broadsheet it raised $8,406. Which is it?
* The documents list Buffis as the manager of the funds. For the LPA’s address, the form lists Buffis’ home address.
There are more developments to come in this case. Stay tuned. With all this, THE PLANET echoes the words of Buffis’ lawyer: In the eyes of the law, he’s innocent until proven guilty.
“Into the flat blue mist the sun / Drops out and all our day is done.” — Gerard Manley Hopkins, last two lines, “Winter with the Gulf Stream,” (1891, 1918).
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.