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Former Lee Police Chief Facing Federal Charges

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A former Lee police chief is facing further charges related to stealing from a Christmas toy fund.

Joseph Buffis, 56, of Pittsfield was charged Thursday in U.S. District Court in a superseding indictment with three counts of wire fraud, mail fraud and four counts of money laundering, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney's office.

On Aug. 8, 2013, Buffis was charged in an initial indictment with extortion and three counts of money laundering.

According to the superseding indictment, Buffis used his position as a police officer to solicit public donations on behalf of the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, ostensibly to use for toy purchases for needy families, primarily by sending notices on Lee Police Department letterhead to The Berkshire Eagle, which regularly published them in its print and online editions.

Buffis' notices were materially fraudulent and false, say prosecutors, in that they failed to disclose that he was using a substantial part of the donations for his personal use. Donated toys, they say, were distributed to mask the diversion of cash and check contributions.

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, he deposited cash 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 payable to the Toy Fund from two individuals who were facing prostitution-related charges, according to the indictment. He deposited the check into the Toy Fund's bank account and quickly withdrew $3,990 with three checks that he wrote to "Cash" but deposited into a joint bank account that he operated with his wife.

In addition, after becoming chief in 2011, he arranged for the town of Lee to provide the police force with four iPhones — one for himself and three for other officers. Rather than distribute the three iPhones, he gave them to his wife and their two children for their own personal use, according to the indictment, and cost the town $5,091 for the phone service.

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.

U.S. 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 Thursday. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow of Ortiz's Springfield Branch Office.

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