Lee Police Chief Joseph Buffis accused of siphoning money from holiday toy fund he controlled

The chief of police in the Western Massachusetts town of Lee is facing federal charges that he extorted $4,000 cash from people facing prostitution-related charges and then laundered the money through a holiday toy fund he controlled.

Chief Joseph Buffis was indicted today on one count of extortion and three counts of money laundering. He will be summonsed in to court for his initial appearance at a later date, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said in a statement.

“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,’’ Ortiz said in a statement.

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According to Ortiz’s office, Buffis in February 2012 reached out to two people who were facing prostitution-related charges and requested a “donation” for the Edward J. Laliberte Toy Fund, a group that Buffis personally controlled.

Buffis collected $4,000 and deposited it in the toy fund’s bank account, but then withdrew $3,990, depositing the money into a joint bank account he had with his wife, and then using the money for personal expenses, prosecutors allege.

Authorities are now asking anyone who donated cash or toys to the toy fund to contact the FBI at its Springfield office as they continue to investigate Buffis’s handling of the toy fund’s finances.

Also condemning Buffis’s alleged actions was Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless, who stressed in a statement that only Buffis is accused of breaking the law, not the entire Lee police department.

“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,’’ Capeless said in a joint statement with Ortiz.