DOI: Correction commissioner misused city vehicle

NEW YORK (AP) -- The head of New York City's jail system spent 90 days out of the city last year even amid violence problems at the troubled Rikers Island jail complex, the city Department of Investigation said Friday.

Investigators found Commissioner Joseph Ponte took his city-owned vehicle to Maine in violation of guidelines and other Department of Correction officials misused their agency vehicles with trips to Cape Cod, the Hamptons and other destinations.

Commissioner of Investigations Mark Peters said the widespread disregard for city policy undercuts the Department of Correction's ability to ensure order and discipline at an agency "already struggling to control violence and crime in its jails."

"Most disturbing in this report is the conduct of senior officials who must be accountable for their actions," Peters said.

Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio defended Ponte in his weekly radio appearance on WNYC, saying the commissioner had simply followed the advice he had been given on the use of his city vehicle.

But Deputy Mayor Anthony Shorris said in a statement later Friday that the Department of Correction's practice on the use of city-owned vehicles "has not correctly reflected the city's vehicle use policy for many years."

Shorris said city officials would institute new protocols to ensure all employees are following vehicle-use rules.

The New York Times first reported the investigation.

A Department of Correction spokesman told the Times that even if Ponte or his senior staff were outside the city they remained "on call all day, all night, all year."