DOI accuses Rikers Island official of spying

NEW YORK (AP) -- The top internal affairs official at Rikers Island orchestrated unauthorized eavesdropping on telephone calls between a New York City watchdog agency and confidential informants serving time at the troubled jail complex, the agency alleged Monday.

The staff of deputy Correction Department Commissioner Gregory Kuczinski secretly monitored the calls in violation of rules prohibiting surveillance of city Department of Investigation officers, DOI said in a statement that called on him to be fired. Kuczinki's division received a directive to stop the monitoring, but he ordered it to resume immediately after he and other jail officials learned their private use of city vehicles was under scrutiny, it said.

"Our investigation provided no alternative explanation that would suggest this timing was coincidental," the statement said. No one at the Department of Corrections "was able to provide a coherent explanation for this misconduct," it added.

A city jails spokesman confirmed Monday that Kuczinski had been placed on restricted duty in response to the allegations.

There was no immediate response to email messages left Monday for Kuczinski. But in an interview on Sunday with The New York Times, Kuczinski denied any wrongdoing, calling the Department of Investigation's concerns "ridiculous."

His boss, Commissioner Joseph Ponte, also told the Times there was "no intent to interfere with DOI and anything they were doing."

The interagency dispute has brought more bad publicity for Rikers Island, a sprawling jail complex struggling to overcome a sordid reputation for corruption and violence. Last month, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced he'd support an ambitious plan to dismantle the jail in favor of a network of smaller jails, but warned it could take at least a decade to accomplish.

Despite the upheaval, Ponte spent 90 days out of the city last year, according to the Department of Investigation report on alleged misuse of government vehicles. He regularly took his official vehicle to Maine, while other jails officials used theirs for trips to Cape Code, the Hamptons and other destinations in violation of city guidelines.