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Embattled jails commissioner to resign, source says

Embattled New York City Department of Correction Commissioner

Embattled New York City Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte, seen here on Dec. 17, 2014, is resigning, according to a source. Photo Credit: AP / Seth Wenig

New York City’s embattled jails commissioner, Joseph Ponte, is planning to resign, a source said late Thursday night, weeks after Ponte was scolded for breaking municipal ethics rules by driving his city-issued car on 18,500 miles of improper out-of-town trips and billing taxpayers for tolls and gas.

Ponte, 70, could not be immediately reached for comment, nor could a spokesman for the Department of Correction, which he was appointed to oversee in March 2014, but a source confirmed the resignation on condition of anonymity.

In recent days, Ponte had been vague about whether he would stay in the post amid the uproar over the trips, mostly to his native New England, where he spent nearly a quarter of 2016 in Maine, according to a report issued by the city’s Department of Investigation.

The Department of Investigation later accused Ponte’s top aide in charge of internal affairs of spying on its investigators — and continuing to spy even after being instructed to stop.

But Mayor Bill de Blasio has resolutely defended Ponte since the scandal broke, maintaining that Ponte got incorrect oral advice that personal use of city vehicles was allowed, although written guidelines explicitly ban the practice.

De Blasio recruited Ponte, a former prison guard and Marine from Maine, to clean up the city’s troubled jail system, which is under federal supervision. The U.S. Department of Justice called Rikers Island, the city’s main jail complex, a place of “deep-seated violence,” and challenged conditions there in court.

Ponte had been tasked with helping to carry out a plan to close Rikers within 10 years, and in defending Ponte from the allegations, the mayor pointed to Ponte’s achievements, such as eliminating solitary confinement for young people and providing more education for inmates.

Other statistics, however, are up, such as inmate-on-inmate violence and injuries from inmate assaults on staffers.

Earlier Thursday, de Blasio likened the uproar embroiling Ponte’s improper out-of-state car trips to the election-season controversy over Hillary Clinton’s home-brew email server.

“All people want to talk about is the godforsaken cars. I feel like when Bernie Sanders said in that debate, ‘Enough with the damn emails,’ ” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer on the weekly #AskTheMayor radio show on WNYC.

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