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WEAPONS COLLECTOR UNDER WIDE ATTACK

It wasn't the time one of his Sherman tanks riding aboard a World War II carrier crashed into a sheriff's cruiser on the Kensington Expressway during the Memorial Day weekend.

Nor was it the time sheriff's deputies say Thomas F.W. Gould flashed a badge after he drove an 18,000-pound Army personnel carrier to a Grand Island tavern.

And maybe he did he use Army personnel carriers for his own company, instead of keeping them in a military museum chartered by the state.

And yes, maybe employee accounts are true that he kept a personal carrier behind his Grand Island home and drove it as the ultimate snowmobile.

But the last straw -- the thing that cost him his gold captain's badge in the Sheriff Department's Reserve Division -- was chasing two men off his property -- with an armored personnel carrier that looked like a tank, one startled guy told the sheriff's Internal Affairs investigators.

The man, seeking to repossess a car, turned out to be a private detective and a friend of Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins. And even though Gould had done the sheriff and his deputies a lot of favors, Higgins yanked his badge.

Now Lt. Col. Gould, who never served in the military but has a commission in an auxiliary force called the New York Guard, is in a world of trouble.

Not only the sheriff, but also the FBI, Army and Defense Department got after him. And Gould -- even if he does own a 15,000-item military collection and more tanks than a lot of countries -- will have a tough time winning this one.

Gould has a different way from state and federal officials in defining a museum. Consider how some of his 10 personnel carriers -- four donated by the Army, six purchased but all part of Gould's Western New York Military Museum -- have been put to use:

Narcotics agents used three of Gould's personnel carriers to knock down doors of crack houses and drug dens.

Such largess, including the donation of uniforms for the Special Weapons and Tactics teams for the Sheriff's Department and Buffalo Police Department, helped Gould win his gold captain's badge in the sheriff's Reserve Division.

Gould painted two other large military vehicles red and lettered them with the name of his Great Lakes Construction Co. on the sides.

He used them to lay a water pipeline in Akron and to help build a training range for the Sheriff's Department.

Gould often kept yet another of these 18,000-pound personnel carriers -- which, like a tank, runs on tracks -- behind his home on West River Road in Grand Island.

Former employees and a business partner say Gould often took them for rides in this camouflaged personnel carrier.

As he does with all his equipment, Gould meticulously restored the 1970 FMC-made vehicle -- which cost $283,000 when new and was donated by an Army depot to Gould for his museum. Gould equipped it with a cellular phone, police scanners and a rotating file of phone numbers, according to employees.

This is also the vehicle, Sheriff's Department sources say, that Gould used to chase away two private investigators who came to repossess one of his Mercedes-Benz automobiles last winter.

"This guy looks up to see what he thinks is a tank bearing down on him and runs like hell," said a sheriff's source familiar with the incident.

The private investigator, from AAA Investigations Services, refused comment.

Although sources say he gave a statement to the sheriff's Internal Affairs investigators, the private detective declined to file a criminal complaint.

Gould, however, did file a complaint against "John Doe" with the state police. And as in many other matters of dispute concerning Gould, his version is different.

He said the private investigators drove wildly and put his family at risk. And he insists he never was in the personnel carrier that day.

He also denied the reports by his former workers -- Justin Inscore, Frank Denaro and Howard Benns -- and former business partner Thomas Rall that he drove the vehicle frequently.

Gould, 45, the co-owner of Innovative Chemical in Buffalo, a private label firm that mixes formulas for national companies, appears to be a very wealthy man with an extremely expensive hobby.

Besides a luxury Mercedes-Benz and Mercedes coupe, Gould owns a 1984 Ferrari, and several other cars and motorcycles. State motor vehicle records also show that Gould has about three dozen military vehicles insured and licensed, including military jeeps and trucks.

Gould, who has successfully avoided publicity since a luxury car business, Gould Motors, went under in the late 1970s and left $107,000 in debts, suddenly finds himself the center of attention.

Higgins said he took away Gould's Reserve Division captain's badge in January because of what the sheriff said was a number of "embarrassing incidents."

Gould's Great Lakes Construction, which handled demolitions in Buffalo as well as the Akron pipeline job, has gone out of business, leaving hundreds of thousands in debts. The John Deere Co. recently repossessed more than $400,000 in equipment from Gould.

The FBI and U.S. Defense Department have assigned criminal investigators to learn how Gould put together what some consider one of the nation's largest private military collections and whether he is abiding by rules that say donated equipment is for display only.

And the state Education Department said last week that it is considering revoking a provisional -year charter Gould was granted in 1990 for his military museum. "There are material differences about what we were told and based the granting of the charter on," said Chris Carpenter, of the State Education Department.

Ed Woolverton, chief of the Army's reuse division at TACOM in Warren, Mich., said the agency is looking at taking back its 34 pieces of equipment because an inspection of Gould's collection showed Gould has a warehouse, not a museum.

"It's all we can afford," Gould said. "We can't afford a Smithsonian display."

Gould, in numerous conversations with The Buffalo News last week, said he believes the government suddenly is targeting him.

He said the heavy military equipment -- including tanks, four of his personnel carriers and other pieces donated by the Army -- constitute less than 1 percent of his 15,000-item collection. He claimed he bought most from other military collectors, but when the Army did donate equipment to him, he followed regulations.

Gould said he finds it odd the Army now says the tanks and other vehicles it donated are for display only. If that were the case, he said, why did the Army spend so much time finding tanks in running order? And if he has to move a 52-ton tank, he asked, how does the Army intend that he move it?

"It's very unfair to ostracize someone who follows the rules only to discover the rules have changed," Gould said. "We have not taken any public money; in fact it's been a huge drain."

Gould said he frequently shows the collection to various groups.

"We've put a lot of smiles on people's faces," he said.

Where is the museum located?

Gould declines to say. He said agents from the FBI and the Army told him not to disclose the location.

Rall, who claims to have lost everything he had after Gould became his partner in Great Lakes Construction, said he saw Gould's military collection frequently in the various warehouses, but was surprised to learn it was a museum.

"Never once did he say it was a museum," Rall said. "He always said it was his."

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