Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

April 8, 2014

Credit card investigation wrapped up

Lawyer reports officials did not know about specific expenses

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal —

The Youth and Recreation director was given the OK to use a city credit card to pay expenses for a golf tournament fundraiser, but certain specific expenses were not authorized, said the lawyer hired to investigate the matter.

Now its up to Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey to decide if disciplinary charges should be brought against Youth and Recreation Director Melissa Junke. McCaffrey will also have the power to appoint a hearing officer if Junke is disciplined and decides she wants a hearing.

Brian Doyle, the Hamburg attorney hired to investigate the questionable credit card use, told the Common Council on Tuesday Junke would be entitled to a hearing if discipline was the route McCaffrey wanted to go. 

The city has 18 months from the date of the alleged misuse of the card to decide whether charges could be brought. Doyle, who could serve as the attorney that brings the charges, said no overt criminal activity was found in his investigation.

City Attorney John J. Ottaviano said he believed the idea of using a golf tournament to raise money for the Youth and Recreation Department budget was improper.

“Municipalities are not allowed to fund raise. That includes golf outings,” Ottaviano said. “The golf tournament in general appears to have been an improper event.”

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 golf tournament, held on June 3 of last year. 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, five of whom flew in from Florida while the other flew in from Boston. Two of the travelers brought female companions. Three of the six were former NFL players and another was a golfer.

Other spending included more than $3,200 for party supplies, ranging from candy and hot dogs to raffle tickets and folding tables.

The $85-a-ticket tournament was held June 3 at the Lockport Town and Country Club. It was set up by Lock 34 Bar & Grill which is owned by Junke’s brother, Brian.

An attempt to reach Junke's attorney George V.C. Muscato was unsuccessful Tuesday. Muscato said in February the golf tournament brought in $1,500, with which Junke made four deposits.

Former Mayor Michael W. Tucker gave Junke the card. Tucker has said she was encouraged to fund raise for her department because it had been underfunded for a few years.

“The former mayor authorized the use of the credit card, but did not give explicit approval for all of the items purchased,” Doyle said.

Doyle said not all the bills Junke submitted were paid. The city refused to pay a limousine bill of “north of $2,000” for transporting the six visitors and their companions because it wasn’t put on the credit card.

During her first month in office, McCaffrey had both of the city credit cards destroyed. They will eventually be replaced with closely-monitored purchasing cards.

Ottaviano said he had instructed McCaffrey not to answer questions or make statements about the case. She was even asked to leave the room when the Council went into executive session to discuss Doyle's report, which was done orally.

Prior to taking office in February, McCaffrey as Common Council president initiated the credit card investigation.  

Doyle was hired in February at $200-an-hour. The time hasn't been added up yet, so a total cost of the investigation wasn't available Tuesday. Junke is on medical leave because of injuries related to a fall on an icy sidewalk in January.

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