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The Buffalo News (New York)
LOCKPORT - A notice of claim, which is a mandatory first step toward filing a lawsuit, was submitted Thursday by Melissa I. Junke, Lockport's youth and recreation director, over the disclosure of her name in connection with a probe of misuse of city credit cards.
The notice gives Junke one year to follow up with a formal lawsuit, said her attorney, George V.C. Muscato.
The document accuses the city of violating various state and federal privacy laws by allowing Junke's name to be publicly revealed as the target of an investigation over a June 2 golf tournament in which Junke used former Mayor Michael W. Tucker's city credit card to pay $9,080.77 in expenses.
It also accuses the city of defamation, as City Treasurer Michael E. White told The Buffalo News that Junke had never deposited any money from the tournament in a city account.
Muscato said that statement is false, asserting that copies of four or five deposit slips were supplied to Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano as far back as last July, after he wrote Junke a letter asking for financial details about the event.
The tournament was sponsored by Lock 34 Bar & Grille, a Lockport restaurant whose co-owner is Junke's brother, Brian Junke.
Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey issued a news release in early February, when she was still Common Council president, announcing the investigation of credit card misuse, but she didn't reveal Junke's name. The News did so Feb. 5, confirming the information with four city officials, none of whom agreed to be quoted by name.
But White and Chief Accountant Ruth E. Ohol gave The News a subsequent interview, naming Junke, detailing the expenses and why they thought the tournament costs were not a proper city expense.
Tucker had allowed Junke, his cousin, to use the city credit card for several years for purchases to augment her department's budget, according to city records obtained by The News. Tucker has said he allowed Junke to raise funds on her own to add to the Youth and Recreation Department budget, which Tucker said was in his view inadequate.
Brian D. Doyle, the Hamburg attorney who carried out the investigation the Council sought, said that Tucker had placed Junke's department off limits to financial scrutiny by the Treasurer's Office.
Doyle said the specifics of the golf tournament costs, such as flying in six former pro athletes to take part, were not authorized by the city.
Muscato said, "The (former) mayor gave her a credit card with absolutely no restrictions on how to use it. She used it in accordance with past practice. The state's already said the city's accounting is in shambles."
Ottaviano said, "Anytime a matter involves an employee, my preference is always for the municipal employer not to disclose the name of the person."
But he said Junke's name was already being mentioned by callers to a radio talk show, and Ottaviano said, "I think the public has a legitimate public concern about the golf outing and the city's involvement in that."
Muscato said, "A personnel matter is a matter that is entitled to some degree of privacy until it is determined that charges are being brought." He noted that Junke has not been the subject of any city discipline so far, and therefore, her name shouldn't have come out.
As for the deposits, Ottaviano said, "Truth is an absolute defense against defamation (lawsuits). ... There is nothing Mike White said that is either untrue and not previously disclosed by other sources or means."