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HEAT TURNED UP ON SOUP KITCHEN MANAGER

Ignatius "Sonny" Miano is facing a barrage of questions about his management of the Helping Hands soup kitchen and pantry on Buffalo's West Side.

Concerns were raised on three fronts Monday in the wake of weekend disclosures that money and food donations may have been mismanaged at the center:

City Comptroller Joel A. Giambra said he will initiate an audit "if we are able to find the records."

Niagara Council Member Robert Quintana said he will ask the Council for a review of the soup kitchen's lease, which has obligated the city to pay thousands of dollars in utility bills. The center opened its doors at 382 Massachusetts Ave. in 1986 and pays the city only $1 a year in rent.

The pantry's fledgling board of directors is asking for answers of its own about its standing and about income and expenditures reported in the soup kitchen's tax returns. The board has held only two meetings -- one in Miano's Snyder home.

Daniel Brennan, board president, hinted Monday that Miano could be replaced after the board's official status is confirmed by the state.

Miano and his wife, Ruth, repeatedly have said they receive no compensation from the soup kitchen and live only on his small pension check and her disability check.

Yet, in August 1996, the couple paid $102,000 for a home at 6 Cloister Court, Snyder.

The soup kitchen and food pantry were open for business Monday with Miano in his office.

When asked to comment on questions raised over his financial management, Miano said he "would have a statement in the next day or two.

"I was really shocked . . . and could not catch my breath," he said of a story in Saturday's Buffalo News raising questions about his operation. "There were things reported about me in The Buffalo News that I didn't like or appreciate."

His new board is still waiting for explanations about the amount of money donated to the center that was reported to the Internal Revenue Service, including a $113,000 bequest in 1995, and a drastic drop in donations from $54,475 in 1991 to $12,132 in 1996. Board members also wonder about several loans made by the center to Miano.

For years, Miano has been the sole keeper of the center's checkbook, personally opening and handling most of the contributions and writing checks at his discretion.

"We are hesitant to take any kind of official action," Brennan explained, "until the state attorney general's Office of Charities confirms that we are, indeed, a legal board."

That answer was expected today.

The four board members were advised by an attorney that Miano was supposed to formally notify the state of their appointments.

Brennan, his wife and two friends were recruited as board members in December after helping out with the soup kitchen's annual Christmas dinner.

"I had helped out with the dinner for the past few years," Brennan said. "Sonny told me, 'I need help. I need to put a board together. Can you be on the board?' "

Brennan, his wife and friends agreed.

"We were all anxious to do what we could to keep the dining room and pantry open," Brennan explained, "because we saw the need for it."

Board member Michelle Pfister said that, after the dinner, Miano and his wife left for their annual three- to four-week vacation, "so we didn't actually meet until late January. That first meeting was at the center." The second was at Miano's home in Snyder.

The board held an emergency meeting Monday with members of the community's food providers.

"Everyone has promised to help us do whatever we must to keep the center open," Brennan said. "We are also very optimistic that we will be able to work closely with the outreach center Sonny was so upset about."

The Massachusetts Block Club is currently sharing space with the soup kitchen to provide programs for the neighborhood's young people and senior citizens. It also serves as a meeting place for the block club and offers a wellness clinic.

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