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Internal battle disturbs the peace within Buffalo Police Reserves

You might have noticed the Buffalo Police Reserves at events such as the Galbani Buffalo Italian Heritage Festival or the Buffalo Marathon. They are volunteers who don police-like uniforms to help city police officers with crowd control.

They number as many as 40, carry no weapons or Mace, have no police training and no police authority. They generally help keep the peace by virtue of their uniformed presence.

But within the Police Reserves, peace is nowhere to be found.

The 105-year-old organization is in turmoil, facing an internal battle that includes allegations of financial shenanigans and property theft as well as questions about fundraising practices.

It’s a battle between an ousted reserve captain and the current reserve chief.

Michael J. Monnin, the ousted captain, claims he’s being forced out for raising questions about how the reserve chief spends the organization’s funds.

David P. Howard, the reserve chief, denies the accusation. Howard also denies any financial wrongdoing.

“He’s a crackpot,” Howard said of Monnin. “He’s disgruntled.”

And Monnin fires back.

“They are just taking money in and writing checks,” Monnin responds. “There is no accountability. I was starting to ask questions about finances. That’s why they booted me out.”

Spending questioned

Monnin, 64, of Hamburg, a former truck driver now working as a transportation manager, joined the Buffalo Police Reserves in 1982. At the time, it was a social organization known more for an annual party than for its civic participation.

Howard, 49, of Buffalo, was appointed to the Buffalo Police Department as an officer about 30 years ago, but didn’t make it through probation. He has operated a private disc jockey entertainment company and worked for many years in private security. He was in a car accident in 2008 and suffered a stroke in 2009 that resulted in his going on disability last year, he said.

Howard joined the Police Reserves in 1998. By that time, the group had already transitioned into its current role, getting assignments from the Police Department to assist with crowd control.

The reserve members have a police-like command structure, as well as bylaws and a constitution. Members of the reserve elect their senior officers. Over the years, Monnin became a lieutenant and Howard a captain. And last December, Howard was promoted to chief and Monnin took over as captain.

Reserve members wear uniforms that they buy. They are funded with membership dues, donations from community organizations and biannual lottery-style raffles. The Buffalo News estimates the organization spends, on average, $2,500 a year, according to a review of Police Reserve checking account reports covering 45 months.

Howard has spent thousands of dollars in Police Reserve funds at local restaurants and bars, mostly at one Pearl Street establishment, Monnin said. The Buffalo News review pegs the total cost of the meals and drinks over three recent years at about $2,500, with the most recent purchases in 2014.

Howard says the money went to pay the tab when reserve members got together after their regular twice-monthly meetings. “I stopped it over a year ago because we didn’t have the funds,” he said. “There is nothing illegal about that.”

But Monnin said the spending wasn’t authorized, was never done prior to Howard’s stewardship, and that relatively few members participate.

Howard also used the reserve checking account on several occasions to cash checks written to himself in connection with his personal business, Monnin said. The Buffalo News identified four instances of this occurring, three times in 2013 and once in 2014.

Howard said he may have accidentally deposited his own checks into the reserve account a few times. “It happened by mistake,” he said. “I think it happened a few times,” he said.

Nonprofit or not?

Monnin also said that the Police Reserves, which accept hundreds if not thousands of dollars in donations annually, has claimed to be a nonprofit organization. But he learned – and the state Department of State confirmed – the organization does not have nonprofit status. It also for years claimed a tax-exempt number that appears to be bogus, Monnin said. The absence of nonprofit status calls into question the legality of the organization’s twice-a-year lottery-like raffles and other fundraising. The raffles net the organization about $1,000 a year.

“In order to conduct raffles in New York State, you have to be an authorized organization and nonprofit,” said Christy Calicchia, a spokeswoman for the state Gaming Commission.

Howard said the organization’s officials have been trying to address these issues since Monnin brought them to their attention.

“All these years, we thought we were set up as a nonprofit,” Howard said. “We’ve been trying to figure it out.”

But Howard said he’s not the bad apple in this organization; Monnin is the problem, he said.

Howard said he wasn’t involved in the initial move to suspend Monnin, but Howard and another reserve officer – who asked not to be identified – said the reserve unit moved to discipline Monnin because he was perceived as arrogant by some of the officers. They charged that Monnin abused his authority by giving Police Reserve badges to a group of rookies who hadn’t gone through their full 18-month probation.

Howard said it was, however, his decision to remove Monnin from the unit for being uncooperative and then insubordinate to Buffalo police officers called in after Monnin was presented with suspension papers. Howard also said Monnin used reserve funds to do online background checks. Monnin acknowledges having run two checks – on Howard.

Also, Howard said, Monnin refused to return organization property – 150 badges valued at $40 each as well as various documents, including the organization’s checkbook and personnel logs – after being ousted from the organization in October. As a result, Howard last week went to Buffalo police to request an arrest warrant that accuses Monnin of grand larceny. Howard said the warrant still needed approval from the Erie County District Attorney’s Office.

Monnin said he gave the rookies their badges at the request of several lieutenants, who cited the probationary reserve officers’ exemplary performance. The charges against him are bogus, Monnin said, and he said that he was not insubordinate to Buffalo police or anyone else the day he was served with the disciplinary document. Monnin also said he was never officially ousted from the reserves and was never asked for the items Howard mentioned. In fact, he said he does not have most of them.

That’s not true, said Howard, who showed The Buffalo News a certified letter sent Oct. 13 to Monnin’s home stamped “Return to Sender – Refused” by the U.S. Postal Service. Monnin denied any knowledge of the letter.

Records reviewed

The Buffalo News reviewed Buffalo Police Reserve bank checking account records for 2013, 2014, and most of 2011 and 2015. The 2012 records were not available.

The group took in about $11,000 and spent about $10,000 during the 45 months of documents reviewed. Money appears to have been spent for such things as radio batteries, badges and stipends to help offset member uniform costs. Funds also were spent on charity events during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, refreshments for reserves while on assignment, and food and drink at bars and restaurants during the year. About $2,500 went to seven different bars and restaurants during 2011, 2013 and 2014, with the biggest chunk – $2,163 – going to Encore Restaurant on Pearl Street. The reserves also go out for an annual holiday party, but members generally pay their own way, with the organization only picking up costs not covered by their contribution, Howard said. In one instance, that appears to be about $150.

In April, when the last financial secretary retired, Monnin took over their duties. The former secretary did not respond to calls for comment. Howard says Monnin was supposed to appoint someone else rather than having one person serve as captain and finance secretary.

“I didn’t have anyone I felt comfortable with taking over finances, so I did that myself,” Monnin responded.