Niagara Gazette

February 21, 2014

Lockport city worker's attorney fires back on credit card use

LOCKPORT: Says city officials were aware of credit card use.

BY JOE OLENICK
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette —

LOCKPORT — City officials were well aware that Youth and Recreation Director Melissa Junke was using a city credit card to cover expenses for a golf tournament fundraiser for her department, according to Junke's attorney, George V.C. Muscato.

And there's documentation to prove it, he added.

Last week, the Common Council voted 5-1 to hire Brian D. Doyle, a Hamburg attorney, to investigate whether covering the fundraiser's expenses was a misuse of the a city credit card given to Junke by Mayor Michael W. Tucker. The investigation is expected to conclude within the next three to four weeks.

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 were obtained 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 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.

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. The golf tournament wasn't very successful, only bringing in $1,500, with which Junke made four deposits, Muscato said.

Muscato said Tucker and the city Common Council were aware of the tournament and its purpose of raising money for the youth department. A sign-in sheet of a May 6 Youth Board meeting showed two aldermen, Alderman Patrick W. Schrader and Alderwoman Kathryn J. “Kitty” Fogle, attending the meeting. Muscato said plans about the golf tournament was shared at that meeting.

Tucker even attended the fundraiser, which included a basket raffle.

"He was there, won a basket, basket number 22," Muscato said. "He bought five tickets and the fourth ticket he bought won."

Tucker declined to comment on the matter, citing he received legal advice not to do so. He did confirm that fundraising is a common revenue source for the Youth and Recreation Department, an area of the city budget that is often kept trim.

In the 2014 budget, the department's funding was cut down to $83,531 and a position was eliminated. Last year, Youth and Recreation was budgeted at $131,739, which is around the same amount the department received for the previous three years. In 2010, Youth and Recreation's actual budget line was $178,449.

Muscato said Junke has been encouraged to fundraise in order to keep the department afloat. She has fundraised successfully in the past for the department, Muscato said.

"If she shouldn't fundraise, fine tell her that," he said. "We don't need a big investigation."

While officials may not have known exactly what was charged on the card, Muscato said, that's not Junke's fault. It's the responsibility of the mayor and the finance department, he said.

Approving the city's bills, including those with both city credit cards, is usually the second resolution aldermen vote on at a regular meeting. The charges were paid with a reserve account set up for the youth department

When asked if Junke was considering legal action, Muscato said "we'll talk about that."

Common Council President Anne E. McCaffrey did not return a phone call seeking comment Thursday. She did say last week a city credit use policy is something the council should be implementing soon.

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