New York – New York City’s Department of Correction watchdog was relieved of his investigative duties on Monday after he was accused of directing surveillance of telephone calls by informants about the city’s troubled Rikers Island jail complex.
Correction staff improperly listened in on calls between confidential Rikers informants and inspectors from the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI), Mark Peters, the DOI’s commissioner, said on Monday.
The DOI is essentially the city’s inspector general, with independent oversight over city agencies including the Department of Correction.
Spying took place under the direction of Correction Deputy Commissioner Gregory Kuczinski, Peters said. Surveillance continued under Kuczinski’s watch even after written orders that it end, he said.
The allegations came 10 days after the DOI released a report reprimanding Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte and others for improperly using city-issued vehicles for personal travel.
Peters said Kuczinski ordered a fresh round of surveillance immediately after learning that report was forthcoming.
City rules expressly prohibit Correction surveillance of informant calls made to DOI investigators.
In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, the DOI recommended that Kuczinski be immediately removed from his post, Peters said.
“He has not been fired. He’s been relieved from his investigation and call-monitoring duties,” Correction spokesman Peter Thorne said.
A de Blasio spokeswoman, Natalie Grybauskas, called the allegations “serious and troubling” and said the mayor’s office would work with both departments to address the issue.
Revelations that Correction staff deliberately targeted Rikers informant calls to DOI investigators mark the latest stumble for one of the nation’s largest jail complexes, which de Blasio has agreed to close in as little as 10 years amid accusations of brutality and corruption.
Dozens of Rikers employees have been prosecuted in recent years for abuse, corruption and contraband smuggling.
Along with saying that Kuczinski should be fired immediately, the DOI recommended:
– Retraining Correction staff tasked with listening to inmate calls.
– Reorganizing Correction’s telephone monitoring staff to ensure DOI probes are not further compromised.
– Putting a newly created Correction telephone monitoring unit under direct DOI supervision.