New York City’s ethics watchdog agency has fined nine top municipal jail officials — including the correction commissioner herself — for personal use of government-issued vehicles, to drive to the airport, go on mall shopping sprees and travel to Long Island for errands.
Also Tuesday, the city’s chief fiscal overseer released a report saying that the cost-per-inmate at the city’s jails had reached unprecedented heights.
Under an agreement she reached with the city Conflicts of Interest Board, Correction Commissioner Cynthia Brann was fined $6,000 and was docked eight personal days worth $5,800. She also agreed to reimburse the city $493.67 in mileage expenses.
In the agreement, she acknowledged taking 16 personal trips in 2016 unrelated to her job or commute, including to the Roosevelt Field mall in Garden City, Gallery Plaza in Westbury, Century 21 also in Westbury, and the Tanger outlets in Riverhead.
An anonymous tip earlier led to a city investigation that alleged nearly two dozen Department of Correction personnel — including Brann, then-commissioner Joe Ponte, the chief of staff, wardens and others — had broken city ethics rules by using the vehicles for personal purposes.
The uproar following the revelation fell most heavily on Ponte, who investigators said had been absent from the city for nearly a quarter of the year as he led the city’s beleaguered jail system, assailed by the U.S. Justice Department as characterized by “deep-seated violence.”
Ponte, investigators said, repeatedly took his city car to his hometown in Maine. Ponte was not among the nine people fined Tuesday. The status of the ethics board’s inquiry involving Ponte and the others not named Tuesday was not clear, and the board declined to comment.
Ponte announced his retirement in the spring. Brann was named his permanent successor last month, after serving in an acting capacity since his departure.
The written agreements signed by each of the nine with the board said that they wrongly believed personal use of the cars was permitted because of a potential need to respond to jail emergencies. Ponte had made a similar assertion.
Among the nine fined was Raleem Moses, who is a warden, according to board paperwork. Moses used a vehicle for at least 38 personal trips, including to a New Jersey shopping mall, upstate Middletown, the Peninsula Golf Club in Massapequa and a dozen trips to a hair salon in New Rochelle. She agreed to reimburse the city $1,231.74 for mileage, forfeit 20 days of compensatory time valued at $14,379, and pay a fine of $1,500.
Peter Thorne, the jail system’s top spokesman said, “Any disregard of city rules and regulations was an inadvertent misunderstanding and will not recur.”
Separately on Tuesday, the office of the city comptroller, Scott Stringer, reported the department’s cost per inmate has risen to an all-time high: $143,130, up 112 percent over the past decade.
The cost is even higher when factoring in costs outside of the correction department’s budget, such as fringe benefits, pension costs, and medical services for inmates: to $270,876, Stringer’s office said.
There are 10,862 uniformed personnel, most of whom are guards to work the city’s jails and court pens, a headcount up from 9,832 the prior year. The city jails house about 9,500 inmates on any given day.