LOCKPORT – The Common Council is expected to vote today to hire a $200-an-hour attorney to investigate whether City Youth and Recreation Director Melissa I. Junke broke any laws when she allegedly used city funds to organize a golf tournament to raise money for her department.
City Treasurer Michael E. White said Junke ran up a tab of $9,080.77 in setting up the June 3 tournament, which was sponsored by Lock 34 Bar & Grille, a Lockport restaurant whose co-owner is Junke’s brother, Brian Junke.
The money, more than half of it used to fly in former athletes for the event, was charged on a city credit card, according to 42 pages of invoices and purchase orders obtained by The Buffalo News through the Freedom of Information Law.
“That was the mayor’s credit card,” White said, referring to the city credit card kept by Mayor Michael W. Tucker. It’s one of only two city credit cards; White controls the other.
Tucker said Tuesday that he didn’t remember turning the charge card over to anyone for a golf tournament.
“I didn’t know anything about the golf tournament until well after it was over,” Tucker said.
“It was a fundraiser held outside the guise of the city,” White said. “My feeling is, we shouldn’t be using city money for an outside event.”
The Junkes did not return calls seeking comment. Melissa Junke is on medical leave after being injured in a fall on an icy sidewalk outside her Altro Park office. Tucker appointed her youth director in 2006.
Brian D. Doyle, of Hamburg, is the attorney Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano had recommended to investigate the case and determine whether disciplinary charges should be filed. Ottaviano said Doyle recently investigated reported thefts of gasoline by Town of Lewiston employees.
Doyle said, “I anticipate interviewing a number of employees, doing a full investigation and making a full report to the Common Council.”
The Lock 34 golf outing at the Lockport Town and Country Club was supposed to raise money to supplement the city budget for youth programs, which was $131,739 last year.
White said no profits ever were deposited from the golf tournament. Ottaviano said the event, for which tickets were sold at $85 apiece, apparently lost money.
More than half of the expenses for the golf tournament run up on the city’s tab, or $4,820, covered round-trip air fares to bring six athletes in for the event, five from Florida and one from Boston. Two brought companions. At least three of the guests – Duane Starks, Reidel Anthony and Dexter Jackson – are former NFL players.
Other expenses included more than $3,200 worth of party supplies, ranging from candy and hot dogs to raffle tickets and folding tables, bought at such stores as Walmart, Spalding Hardware, Big Lots, Party City, Christmas Tree Shop, Tops, Office Max and Dollar Tree.
The city has had a separate account for years for the Youth and Recreation Department’s fundraisers and event fees, according to Ruth E. Ohol, the city’s chief accountant.
Although the setup preceded her hiring by the city, Ohol said the fund’s original purpose was to capture fees paid by participants in city recreation programs. The money was put into the regular city budget and fell to the general fund balance if it wasn’t spent for something else by the end of the year.
In order to preserve the money for youth programs, the separate account, which Ottaviano said is sometimes inaccurately called a “trust fund,” was set up.
“Last year, we changed the accounting a little bit,” Ohol said. “The (Youth and Recreation) expenses were paid out of the general fund, and at the end of the year, we did a book entry (from the separate fund) to reimburse it.” Ohol said the 2013 expense reimbursement, which included the golf expenses, totaled $22,000, leaving about $19,000 in the youth fund.
Ottaviano said he had ordered a stop to such use of the fund a year ago. “Any expenses from (Junke’s) department should be paid from the department budget. She shouldn’t be treated differently from any other department,” Ottaviano said.
There were eight city purchase orders, all submitted by Junke a few days after the fact, all mentioning that the expenses were for the golf event.