By Julie Manganis
SALEM — Police have questioned a well-known Salem criminal defense attorney in connection with the disappearance of signs from an Essex Street business over the past two months, allegations that even the lawyer conceded were "strange."
Raymond Buso, 58, whose law office is on Church Street, is suspected in at least one of the sign thefts from Rita's Italian Ice, a shop in the Museum Place Mall along Essex Street, according to a Salem police report.
Five signs have been taken from the area near the shop, and three of the thefts were caught on camera, including the one Tuesday night.
The shop's owner then confronted a man who police later recognized as Buso, and followed him to his Norman Street condo, with her cellphone camera rolling.
"I'm beside myself," said Cynthia Weaver, who has owned the Rita's franchise for the past three years.
Weaver said she doesn't know Buso.
She said she has "absolutely no idea" why someone would take the signs.
On Tuesday evening, just before 8:30 p.m., another business owner saw the sign being cut away from its stand in the lobby of the Museum Place Mall and followed the man. As the business owner passed Rita's, he alerted Weaver.
She ran out to confront the culprit, but he continued walking, carrying the sign in a green reusable grocery bag, Weaver said yesterday.
"He wouldn't stop for me," she said.
An ambulance crew parked at the top of Essex Street, in Townhouse Square, saw the commotion and called police. Meanwhile, Weaver followed the suspect through downtown Salem with her cellphone camera, according to the police report, until Buso went through a gate behind his condo and locked it behind him.
On the cellphone video, which Weaver showed to a reporter, Buso is seen walking through downtown Salem toting a green bag, as Weaver yelled for him to stop.
Patrolman John Anderson, who responded to the 911 call, also saw the man Weaver was following and recognized him as Buso, whom he'd seen in court, according to the police report. Weaver said a member of the ambulance crew also recognized the lawyer.
Police knocked on the door to his condo and eventually spoke with him.
The case has now been referred to the detectives unit for further investigation.
The two earlier incidents, also caught on a camera owned by the Nightmare Factory, which is adjacent to the rear entrance to Rita's, occurred late on the evening of June 11, and then just before 6:30 p.m. on the 15th.
In both of those incidents, the signs were later found in trash bins near the mall, including one on Church Street. Police now have the signs. But in both of those cases, the face of the thief is not clearly visible.
Weaver said two other signs were taken out of display frames. The signs cost about $35 each, she said.
She said she would like not only restitution, but some answers.
"I want an apology, and I want to know why," she said.
Buso, for his part, was hesitant to speak yesterday when reached for comment.
"I wish I could talk to you, but I can't," Buso said. "I'm not going to make any comment at the moment."
The lawyer did acknowledge speaking with police officers, and when a reporter suggested that the allegations were unusual, Buso agreed.
"At this point, I'm going to wait and see what happens," said the lawyer, who has not been charged with any of the thefts.
Buso has been involved in several high-profile cases on the North Shore during his career, most recently that of Fernando Aristy, who is charged with murder in the death of a Peabody man, a case that was supposed to have gone to trial last week.
Buso has also been active in civic affairs and ran for School Committee in Salem in 2005.
Courts reporter Julie Manganis may be reached at 978-338-2521 or firstname.lastname@example.org.