In a surprise move, the police chief of Lee, Massachusetts, was fired last night. Joseph Buffis, who was indicted this month on federal corruption charges, was terminated by the town’s select board following new accusations of financial impropriety.
Lee’s select board was only expected to extend police chief Joseph Buffis’ suspension, and decide whether or not he would receive pay and benefits while he battles an indictment in federal court. But town administrator Robert Nason surprised a standing-room only crowd at town hall by calling for Buffis’ termination.
Nason charged that Buffis improperly gave police department mobile phones to his wife and two children, racking up nearly five thousand dollars in charges over one and a half years. This was discovered Friday, Nason says.
Buffis’ attorney claims the town agreed to that arrangement after her client became chief of police.
But town counsel Jeremia Pollard says that doesn’t hold water.
“First of all, it’s unbelievable. Second of all, it’s still a misappropriation of public funds. We don’t pay for people’s family phone plans in the town, on the taxpayer’s back. Plain and simple. Period.”
The three-member board voted unanimously to fire Buffis, who faces federal charges of extorting 4-thousand dollars from a local couple under investigation for prostitution. There were outbursts from some in the crowd, who said the board was rushing to judgment on the indictment. But Selectman Gordon Bailey insisted Buffis’ firing was unrelated to that.
“This is an issue, stop, just a minute. There is a big difference. This has nothing to do with the federal indictment, nothing to do with it. This has nothing to do—we don’t have to wait for a trial. This has nothing to do with that trial. We don’t need to because our decision tonight is not based on that.”
Lee resident Jack Shaughnessy questions the sudden emergence of the fresh accusations.
“I find it awful funny that the cellphone issue just came up tonight.”
Buffis’ attorney Lori Levinson points out the town paid the phone bill every month without raising any questions.
“They would not have paid for four cell phones for 18 months, when it clearly stated on the bill that there were four separate lines, if they didn’t want to pay for them.”
Levinson says she plans to fight Buffis’ termination. His arraignment in the federal case is scheduled for August 29th.