While prosecutors and investigators were finally cracking down on corrupt correction officers and their union leadership, it turns out that the Corrections Commissioner Joseph Ponte was feeding from the public trough with his own corrupt scheme.
Not content with his $200K+ salary, he decided to use a car and EZ pass that belongs to the Department of Correction, in other words, the people, to take his frequent drives to his house in Maine. Clocking tens of thousands of miles on the odometer, and thousands of dollars in tolls, he racked up impressive savings for himself while sticking New Yorkers with the bill.
Perhaps most galling, however, is the corruption of not showing up for the job you’re paid to do. With the assistance of his EZ Pass records, investigators were able to determine that during 2016 Commissioner Ponte was gone from the City for 90 days. Thirty five of those days were during the week. And that’s just what we know from the EZ Pass records. If he ever bothered to take his own car and pay his own tolls while taking a vacation, there would be even more.
2016 was hardly a time for a Correction Commissioner to kick back and chill. Numerous correction officers were arrested for smuggling weapons and narcotics into Rikers Island jails and placing them in the hands of detainees and gang members. And despite fewer arrests and fewer inmates, violence was skyrocketing on Rikers.
Mayor de Blasio stuck by his Commissioner, claiming that Ponte had received wrong guidance about the legality of his obviously illegal conduct. Days after the scandal broke, Ponte appeared at a City Council hearing and offered the same defense of his theft, bad advice. When he was pressed on who gave him the bad advice, he threw two civil servants under the bus. He said former DOC employees Sara Taylor and Mark Cranston gave him the advice that it was ok to bilk the taxpayers and have them pay the tolls for his frequent vacation jaunts to Maine.
Oh, and that was a lie, under oath. When asked by reporters, they both said, um, no, they did not give him that advice. However, if you are waiting for the perjury prosecution, I wouldn’t hold your breath. At least he quit. Maybe we’ll get a Commissioner who is more serious about Rikers Island safety than his vacation house in Maine.