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Salem defense attorney gets six months probation for stealing shop’s signs

Posted by Justin Rice  October 26, 2011 10:47 PM

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A veteran Salem defense attorney received six months of probation yesterday after admitting he stole signs from Rita’s Italian Ice in the Museum Place Mall this summer.  

After some procedural wrangling, Raymond Buso entered a plea of “sufficient facts,” meaning he admitted that there are enough facts to convict him had the case gone to trial.

After taking three signs that advertised for Cynthia Weaver’s ice cream shop this summer, Buso was charged with three counts of vandalism, a felony charge that carries a three-year sentence, and larceny of property under $250, a misdemeanor.

During the hearing Buso said he stole the signs after a series of incidents, including one in which Weaver allegedly prevented Buso’s son from performing a magic show in front of her shop last October by calling the police.

“My observations of her, I took her to be a hard person, a mean person, when my son engaged with her and she called the police on him,” Buso, 58, said. “At that time he would not contest and went along. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

After the hearing, Weaver denied calling the police on Buso’s son. She said she merely asked him to move up the street after the door to her store knocked a young girl into a fire pole.  Other than thinking the magic show’s crowd caused a safety hazard, Weaver said she had a good “working relationship” with Buso’s son. People would come in for ice cream after his show, she said, and she would take out free samples during the show.

“All of a sudden that working relationship ended,” Weaver said. “I never called the police.”  

Buso also said he was upset with Weaver because another shop owner told him Weaver stole that owner's signs. Finally, Buso said he injured his hand on one of Weaver’s sign’s in the middle of the pedestrian mall while walking past it with a handful of cardboard.

“The sign jammed my hand,” he said. “It cut me. A few days later I realized what I hit. It was Mrs. Weaver’s sign. I was angry and I took it. It was anger and a lack of judgment on my part. Twice more in the next 10 days I took signs. It’s humbling to be here and I ask these people to come in [and testify on my behalf] but that’s what I did.”

Six of Buso’s friends and colleagues acted as character witnesses yesterday, including  Steve Serino, who was a Boy Scout leader with Buso. 

 “There was no Scout leader I have ever known that I would trust with my two sons than Ray Buso,” Serino said.  

Nancy Lincoln said she worked with Buso on the mock trial team at Salem High.

“Mr. Buso spent hours upon hours volunteering his time,” she said.  “I’m perplexed and puzzled by the situation. Mr. Buso is a very honest person. Everyone in this room has done something silly. The column of good he’s done far surpasses anything silly he’s done.”

Buso got his day in Salem District court yesterday after the hearing was postponed on two other occasions because he has argued cases before all the Salem judges. Judge David P. Despotpulos, who usually sits in Worcester District Court, heard the case.

At the start of the hearing, Despotpulos shot down Buso’s initial plea bargain.  Buso’s lawyer, Michael Hickey, said his client would admit there was sufficient evidence on the misdemeanor charges if the judge agreed to look at videotape evidence to see if there was sufficient evidence to prosecute the felony charges.

“If you’re asking me to sit up here and be a fact finder, that’s not something I’m going to do,” Despotpulos said. “I’m not going outside the usual procedures. I’m not going to sit here as a fact finder in a mini trial.”

Patrick Bomberg, a Bristol County Assistant District Attorney brought in for the case because of his impartiality, said video surveillance showed Buso taking the signs on several occasions. One sign discarded in a trash can even had fingerprints on it that matched Buso’s prints. After the final sign stealing incident, the police were called and followed Buso back to his home. When they knocked on his door later that day asked why he didn’t respond when they shouted to him, Buso said they didn’t identify themselves as police officers. They did not recover the sign at his home.   

Buso once again alleged that the police have a vendetta against him because he has won judgments against them over the last two decades that have made them look bad, including this past November when the Supreme Judicial Court overturned the murder conviction of Jerome McNulty. After being found guilty of stabbing his girlfriend to death and then stabbing her 10-year-old daughter and babysitter, McNulty was freed when the SJC ruled that police failed to tell him that Buso was on his way to the station and he wanted McNulty to stop talking to police.

Buso said if anyone else did what he did that person would get “one count of larceny and that would be the end of it. … The reason it skipped the clerk hearing and the reason it went directly to court and why I’ve been threatened with indictment … is because I’m a criminal defense lawyer. That’s it.”

“I’m grateful for one thing, to have an independent judiciary.”

Bomberg vehemently denied Buso’s allegations.

The charges against Buso for allegedly intimidating Weaver were dropped yesterday and the charges for stealing the signs will also be dropped in six months as long as he continues to adhere to a court order. The order prevents him from going within 50 yards from the shop or from Weaver. He also has to stay off the downtown pedestrian mall on which Weaver’s shop is located.

 Weaver, who after the hearing said she was disappointed with the outcome, also testified during the hearing.

“I just want you to understand how this has affected me. Just more so because of his standing in the community. I was expecting it to be a teenager when we reviewed the video tape. I was very taken back when I saw it was an adult and when I heard it was an adult who had taken an oath to uphold the law with no disregard for others. It was very unsettling to me. Obviously he doesn’t believe he should be punished for the crimes he’s admitted he’s done. … My life isn’t going back to normal. I don’t think he understands what his actions have done.”

Buso said had he known how much emotional distress the incident would cause Weaver he would not have done it. But Buso told the judge that the humiliation he’s endured over the last three or four months has been all the punishment he needs, including the humiliation he’s endured in the press and being arrested in front of his family.

“I have a big ego and it’s probably not a bad thing to get knocked down,” he said.

Buso said the case has also caused him to lose 20 percent of his business because The Committee for Public Counsel Services would not allow him to take on first degree murder cases while his own case was pending.

“As a result of my actions I can’t do that,” he said. “Worst of all I had a very bad day when I broke down because I had to look a young man in the face and tell him I couldn’t be his lawyer because of my stupidity.  … I could see in his face when I said that it was like pulling a plug. And I had to do that three more times to clients facing murder chargers.

“That’s been part of my punishment. I can guarantee I will never give you the power to do this again.”

Justin A. Rice can be reached at jrice.globe@gmail.com.

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