Posted at: 08/08/2013 11:34 PM
By: Dan Levy
LEE, MASSACHUSETTS - A federal grand jury on Thursday returned disturbing charges against the chief of police in Lee, Massachusetts, charges that were not unexpected, although they still forced town officials to figure out what they're going to do next.
In a tiny New England town known for quaintness and tourism, a federal investigation of the Lee police chief had been a public secret for more than a year.
"Everybody heard rumors and now it just finally came out," said Richard Neals, a lifelong Lee resident.
In an ironic twist, the community that served as the setting for Norman Rockwell's iconic kid-with-a-cop illustration, is now coping with a top cop accused of extortion and money laundering.
It's a case that began in January, 2012, at the Inn at Laurel Lake, where Lee Police and State Police conducted an undercover prostitution investigation. If the U.S. attorney is correct with the allegations, Chief Buffis coerced the owners of the Laurel Inn to donate $4,000 to a holiday toy drive for children, and if they did, the prostitution charges would disappear.
Buffis is further charged with transferring the toy fund money, which he controlled, to his personal bank account and spending it on himself.
"I'm so sorry for him," said Lee resident Ellenmary Dagostino, "At some point he must have meant well."
Richard Neals said, as far as he's concerned, Chief Buffis' "whole life is ruined" and he calls it a "sad situation for the town."
"We have the greatest police department as far as I'm concerned," Neals, a Lee public works employee, stated, "We have the greatest police department in Berkshire County and I don't want this to be a reflection on our town police department."
Berkshire County District Attorney David Capeless echoed those sentiments, saying the case represents "a serious breach of the public trust." He also pointed out that, "the allegations are made against one man, Joseph Buffis, not the Lee Police Department or any other members of its force."
United States Attorney Carmen Ortiz issued a statement that read: "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."