Former Lee Police Chief Facing Federal Charges
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.
Lee Police Chief Indicted On Extortion, Money Laundering Charges
LEE, Mass. — Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis was indicted in federal court Thursday on extortion and money laundering charges.
Buffis, 55, of Pittsfield allegedly extorted $4,000 in "donations" from two individuals who were facing charges related to prostitution, according to the U.S. attorney general's office. The donation was made payable to the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, which Buffis had control over, and then withdrawn and deposited into Buffis' bank account.
According to prosecutors, the money was used to pay personal expenses. Buffis also allegedly lied to law enforcement about 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 U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz in a statement released on Thursday.
Buffis was indicted on the three counts of money laundering and a single count of extortion. He could face up to 20 years in prison on each count, followed by five years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. Buffis has not yet appeared in court for a plea.
The toy fund was named for Laliberte, a longtime Lee police officer, who in the 1950s began to provide toys for the town's needy children at Christmastime.
"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," Berkshire District Attorney David Capeless said in a statement. "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."
The alleged crime was reportedly uncovered by Capeless' office and state police. The case is being tried out of the Springfield federal court.
"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 in a statement.
Police are still seeking the public's assistance in the case. For those who have donated cash or toys to the fund or have applied to the fund are asked to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Springfield agency at 413-732-0159.
President of Enviro-Labs Faces Additional Charges
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — William Enser Jr., the president of Berkshire Enviro-Labs, was back in Superior Court on Tuesday facing new charges.
Enser previously pleaded not guilty to 15 counts of knowingly falsifying reports submitted to the state Department of Environmental Protection and 15 counts of willfully making false reports to MassDEP. He allegedly backdated drinking-water sample analysis to cover up misconduct and feign compliance with environmental laws.
He now faces an additional 14 counts of willfully making false reports to the MassDEP and another 14 counts of knowingly falsifying submitted reports, all of which he pleaded not guilty to in Berkshire Superior Court on Monday. The additional charges brings the total counts up to 58.
According to Attorney General Martha Coakley, Enser, 63, of Lee, continued to work at the lab through February 2013 and failed to submit required sampling that showed bacterial contamination in drinking water samples.
Enser allegedly hid samples that revealed contamination and instead took multiple samples and sent only passing results to the state. Authorities say that in one instance in October 2012, Enser directed an employee to report a drinking water sample which had come from the tap in the Enviro-Labs’ office instead of the public water source.
The lab's certification for testing samples has been revoked by the state.
"These additional charges allege that this defendant failed to submit water sample analysis that showed bacterial contamination to the MassDEP," Coakley said in a press release issued on Tuesday. "He is now prohibited from being involved in the operation of the company and is no longer able to tamper with water testing reports and potentially put people at risk."
After the first arraignment, Enser was prohibited by the court to act as the drinking water system operator, take drinking water samples, conducting water testing or reporting water data. But, he remained active with the company and Judge Daniel Ford ordered receivership of Enviro-Labs. Enser is prohibited from being involved in the company in any way.
"The Environmental Strike Force's continued investigation into the activities of Mr. Enser, who has already been indicted for falsifying drinking water reports, has now revealed evidence of additional fraud," said Commissioner Kenneth Kimmell of MassDEP. "MassDEP is committed to upholding the integrity and the safety of drinking water programs across the Commonwealth."
The investigation began in September 2012. Enser is due back in court in June.
Train Derails in Lee
|We were sent this pictures on Sunday of a train derailment occurred at Columbia Mill in Lee, where Columbia Street runs into East Center Street. Cranes can be seen lifting cars back into position. No further information was available.|
Lee Man Charged in Shooting
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — A Lee man is pleading not guilty in connection with a shooting Thursday evening in Lee.
Phap Nguyen, 51, is being charged with shooting a 30-year-old man, whom police said is his stepson, at Nguyen's 175 Bear Mountain Road home.
According to the district attorney's office, Lee Police were called to the scene of the alleged shooting at 5:45 p.m. on Thursday. Officers from Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge and state police from the Lee barracks along with members of the Berkshire County Special Response Team responded.
The victim, Jeremy Lee Deane, was transported to Berkshire Medical Center in Pittsfield, where he underwent emergency surgery for gunshot wounds to his legs and abdomen. According to a BMC spokesperson, the victim is in stable condition.
It is alleged that Nguyen also shot and killed a dog belonging to Deane.
Nguyen appeared Friday afternoon in Central Berkshire District Court before Judge Michael Ripps.
He had not-guilty pleas entered on his behalf on single counts of armed assault with intent to murder and cruelty to animals. Ripps ordered that he be held without the right to bail and sent him to Bridgewater State Hospital for a competency evaluation.
Nguyen is scheduled to be back in Southern Berkshire District Court in Great Barrington for a pretrial hearing on Jan. 3, 2013.