Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

February 12, 2014

Attorney to probe credit card misuse

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — A Buffalo lawyer will investigate allegations that Youth and Recreation Director Melissa I. Junke misused a city credit card when covering expenses for a golf tournament fundraiser last summer. 

Brian D. Doyle was authorized Tuesday by the Common Council to conduct the investigation and determine whether any violations or improper conduct occurred. He also has the power to prosecute any disciplinary proceeding and recommend discipline if needed.

According to 42 pages of credit card receipts and purchase orders, the card was used to make $9,080.77 in purchases related to the June 2013 golf tournament. The receipts and orders were obtained by the Union-Sun & Journal through a Freedom of Information Law request.

The expenses included $4,820 in round-trip air fares to bring six people to the event, including three former NFL players. Five came from Florida and one came from Boston. Two of them brought companions.

Other spending included more than $3,200 for party supplies, ranging from candy and hot dogs to raffle tickets and folding tables, bought at stores including Walmart, Spalding Hardware, Big Lots, Party City, Christmas Tree Shop, Tops, Office Max and Dollar Tree.

The expenses were covered with city funds. The city has two cards, one held by Mayor Michael W. Tucker and the other by Treasurer Michael White.

Common Council President Anne E. McCaffrey said city officials want to ensure taxpayer money is spent wisely and is used only to provide services to the people of Lockport. 

“We’re asking, why was nothing done about it? Why did management do nothing about it? I, along with some of my fellow Council members, decided to take a stand and make an inquiry into the matter,” McCaffrey said. “We were dissatisfied that management took no action, so we decided to investigate the issue to determine what actually happened and why nothing was done.”

When asked after what she meant by management, McCaffrey said, “I would say the mayor is management, he supervises all of the department heads.”

Although there isn’t a policy concerning employee credit card use, Doyle’s investigation will determine whether the card was used for legitimate city business, McCaffrey said.

”You can’t use city funds for anything other than a city purpose,” she said. “So that’s the crux of it.”

Junke’s purchases were made in May and June of last year. Asked why it took so long to bring the matter forward, McCaffrey said that will come out in the investigation.

A city credit use policy is something the Council should be implementing soon, she added. The item appeared on a list of goals that McCaffrey submitted to her colleagues at a recent work session. 

During the Council’s business meeting Tuesday, Tucker was asked by city resident Jean M. Kiene whether he stood by a statement he made that he couldn’t remember giving Junke the card for the fundraiser. When Kiene asked whether Tucker went to the golf outing, Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano wouldn’t let him reply.

Doyle’s hourly rate for the investigation is $200 per hour.

Fourth Ward Alderman Patrick W. Schrader cast the lone dissenting vote in the Council’s 5-1 decision Tuesday night. Prior to the vote, he said he thinks the investigation is a waste of time and the matter should have been investigated internally.

Junke is on medical leave after being injured in a fall on an icy sidewalk outside the Youth and Recreation office on Willow Street. 

One of the reasons for Doyle’s hire was Ottaviano’s advice to officials that bringing in a third party would avoid a potential conflict of interest. Tucker and Junke are cousins.

The results of the investigation will be public, officials pledged.

“When we receive the final report, we will make as much of it public as possible,” McCaffrey said.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.