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MAR 10 - MAR 17, 2015

Former Lockport Youth Director At Center of Credit Card Investigation Files Complaint with State

By Frank Parlato

March 10, 2015

Melissa Junke is probably hoping 2015 will be a very good year.

.LOCKPORT – Melissa I. Junke - who attained notoriety for her role in a city credit card controversy - has filed a complaint with the state Division of Human Rights -- alleging unlawful discriminatory practices and/or sexual harassment and/or retaliation - against the City of Lockport.

Junke is the former Youth and Recreation Director for the city.

Buffalo attorney Lindy Korn, who specializes in workplace discrimination, represents Junke.

City officials have declined to comment.

Procedurally, an investigation by the Division of Human Rights commences following the filing of a complaint.

While there have been those who have complained about her, and the merits of her complaint have yet to be investigated, one thing is certain: much has happened to Junke during the past year.

In January 2014, she fell on an icy sidewalk outside her office, injuring her back. She went out on workers' compensation.

In February, Common Council president Anne E. McCaffrey announced an investigation of an unnamed city employee who used "a city credit card … to purchase air fare for out-of-town athletes… an expense the Common Council did not authorize or endorse."

While McCaffrey deliberately avoided revealing the name of the employee under privacy strictures, it did not take Buffalo News reporter Tom Prohaska more than a few hours to learn that employee was Junke - and the next day Junke was under a rather unflattering spotlight.

After City Treasurer Michael E. White confirmed certain details of the investigation, Junke became embroiled in a scandal - one that involved Lockport Mayor Michael Tucker.

On February 21, Mayor Tucker - who is Junke's cousin - resigned, saying he was pursuing opportunities in the private sector. It had been reported that the credit card in question - that Junke was suspected of improperly using - was none other than the city credit card of Mayor Tucker. Tucker denied the credit card investigation had any bearing on his decision to resign.

The following day, McCaffrey became mayor and soon afterward the council hired Hamburg lawyer Brian D. Doyle to investigate Junke's role in the curious credit card scandal and how Junke happened to fund, with a city credit card, something called "Lock 34 First Annual Golf Tournament".

It was curious, because Lock 34 was her brother Brian's restaurant.

The details that emerged seemed awfully suspicious.

Lock 34 First Annual Golf Tournament was held the summer before - and, described as a fundraiser, it cost participants $85, which included an afternoon of golfing, the green fee and cart, at the Lockport Town and Country Club, and dinner at Lock 34 Bar & Grille, the restaurant owned by Brian, Melissa's brother.
Melissa used her cousin, the mayor's credit card to make $9,080.77 in purchases to finance this golf and dinner package.

Proceeds from the ticket sales and the raffles reportedly went to her brother and his restaurant. Junke, for her part, pitched guests for donations for youth and recreational programs for the underprivileged children she worked with. Junke said she got four people to donate a total of $1,500, which, she said, she gave to the city.

But she spent $9,080 for the tournament.

Lock 34 Bar & Grille - the scene of a after golf dinner event.


The credit card 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. And $3,200 for party supplies, ranging from candy and hot dogs to raffle tickets and folding tables, bought at Walmart, Spalding Hardware, Big Lots, Party City, Christmas Tree Shop, Tops, Office Max and Dollar Tree.

It looked like Junke had funded her brother's event - with sports celebrities too.

During the investigation, ex-Mayor Tucker admitted to Doyle that he had given Junke his credit card - frequently - and encouraged her to raise money for her city youth programs.

While this golf tournament may have been a flop, Tucker said Junke raised $65,000 over a three-year period for youth programs.

City Treasurer Michael E. White told Doyle that the credit card purchases Junke made for the tournament were paid out of an account which held money paid by participants of youth programs and various donors.

Taxpayer money was not used to fund the Lock 34 golf tournament.

In May, Junke's attorney, George V.C. Muscato, filed a notice of claim, putting the city on notice that the city violated both state and federal privacy laws by releasing Junke's name to the Buffalo News as the target of the credit card investigation.

In June 2014, one year after her disastrous involvement in a sports celebrity golf tournament that raised very little for the children, and cost her in peace of mind, and the quiet enjoyment of those who are not being simultaneously probed by an investigator and paraded before the public, in her small town, in dozens of newspaper accounts. It also cost her, her job.

While still out on compensation, her position - as Youth and Recreation Director - was abolished - said to be a cost cutting measure - but the shift of the council and a 4 to 1 vote - suggested it was a good riddance measure.
Junke had earned $57,145 in 2013.

Two months later, Doyle concluded his investigation.

One month later he presented his findings to the council: There was no criminal activity on the part of Junke, or for that matter Mayor Tucker.

But disciplinary action of city employee Junke was warranted.

And that may have happened - a disciplinary hearing and all - but it did not. Junke was no longer an employee of the city.

As it stands today, Junke must await the results of the Division of Human Rights investigation. If there is a determination of "probable cause," a series of procedural steps are undertaken which might lead to a hearing held by an administrative law judge.

In the event the case is proven, economic loss, pain and suffering, the seriousness of the unlawful practice whatever it may be, will be factors in determining the amount of the monetary award.

And in the matter of her notice of claim filed by Moscato, to date there has been no commencement of a lawsuit.

Junke faces an early May deadline to either commence a lawsuit or forfeit her claims.

It has been a long year for Melissa Junke.

And, as it appears now, it is not over yet.


This is the poster for the tournament that created havoc and prompted an investigation.






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©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina