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Sheriff Thomas F. Higgins on Monday ordered an internal investigation to determine whether any Sheriff's Department personnel violated rules against political fund raising.

"We are definitely going to look into it and get to the bottom of it," Higgins said. "If discipline is warranted, discipline will be taken without a moment's hesitation.

"It won't be taken lightly, that's for sure."

Higgins was reacting to last week's reports that sheriff's deputies and command officers solicited other Sheriff's Department personnel for contributions to the two candidates vying to succeed him. Most of that activity centered around the campaign of Democrat Rocco J. Diina, but claims about deputies soliciting for Republican Patrick Gallivan also are surfacing.

Higgins said he is concerned that such activities could be continuing, especially on county time and property. He said that he issued a directive early in the campaign warning Sheriff's Department employees to refrain from such activity but acknowledged that his personnel are involved in both campaigns.

"I'm concerned that it happened," he said. "It absolutely never, never, never should have happened."

The sheriff said the people in his department are attempting to help choose their next leader and are becoming emotionally involved because of their natural interest. He said last week that he was not aware of state election law prohibiting police officers from soliciting political contributions but acknowledged Monday that some employees could feel intimidated by such action.

"They shouldn't feel threatened, but I can understand that they do," he said.

Several department employees told The Buffalo News last week that they felt pressured to purchase tickets when approached by superiors. The host for a Sept. 4 event was Undersheriff Gerald H. Mack, who said he, too, was unaware of any prohibitions against such activity while emphasizing that no soliciting was done on county time.

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