ALBANY - The state corrections department improperly permitted 64 prison superintendents and 16 other staff to use state cars mainly for commuting to work, New York's inspector general reported Friday.
Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott said the investigation, which The Associated Press first reported almost two years ago, has been completed and corrections officials agreed to return cars to the agency vehicle pool instead of assigning them to top staff.
Her report, made public Friday, cited "scant" evidence superintendents and agency executives used state cars to respond to after-hours prison emergencies, which was a justification for assigning them vehicles.
"The use of these vehicles for commuting and non-business purposes was a waste of taxpayer dollars that should never have been sanctioned," Scott said. A review found that between 2009 and 2010, a million miles collectively were driven commuting in those cars, which several officials also used to transport friends and family.
Scott noted a 2009 directive under Gov. David Paterson to all state agencies and authorities eliminating the assignment of vehicles to specific state employees except in extraordinary circumstances. The report said DOCCS had failed to follow that directive. Then-Corrections Commissioner Brian Fischer didn't change the policy at his agency, which had 1,440 vehicles including 124 assigned to individuals. Instead, he requested exemptions for himself, other top officials and the superintendents, noting superintendents had driven them for 20 years, according to the report.
Fischer, who retired in May, said he assumed that was acceptable since the prison superintendents were considered constantly on call to return to work as needed.
Investigators also found that 16 people used state vehicles to attend a June 2011 retirement party in western New York and 14 also charged the state expenses for an overnight stay, citing nearby state business.
The corrections department, in response to the report, said it has issued a new directive advising executive staff and superintendents they'll no longer be assigned cars, that state vehicles shouldn't be used to attend social events like retirement parties, and that staff with state cars must log all non-business travel.
"As noted in the report, the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision, under new leadership, has taken corrective action," spokesman Tom Mailey said Friday. "No one has been disciplined, but our review for any further action is ongoing. The cars are now pool vehicles to be used solely for state business."
Watch commanders, on-call supervisors, sergeants and others are the first responders who are called to emergencies, and vehicles will continue to be assigned to them to ensure security at prisons, according to the inspector general's office.
The investigation followed complaints about personal use of state cars by the superintendents at Gouverneur prison in northern New York and the Lakeview shock camp in western New York. They respectively used their state cars for roundtrip commutes between home and work of 83 miles and 183 miles, respectively, the report said.