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State IG: Justin Taylor and other prison superintendents drove state vehicles for personal use

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CLAYTON — High-ranking prison administrators — including retired Gouverneur Correctional Facility Superintendent Justin A. Taylor, of Clayton — used state vehicles for personal use in violation of a 2009 state policy that was sanctioned by the state corrections commissioner, according to a report by the state Inspector General’s Office.

Mr. Taylor, who left his Gouverneur position in 2011 and still serves as Clayton’s town supervisor, was among 80 correctional facility superintendents and central office executives who apparently were following a Department of Corrections and Community Supervision policy that basically ignored a 2009 state policy restricting personal use of state vehicles, investigators said in the report, released Friday.

“All of the superintendents were following department policy,” Mr. Taylor said

Monday, adding later that he plans to “update” the Clayton Town Council later this week.

In response to the inspector general’s findings, the DOCCS has issued a new directive “advising executive staff, regional directors, and superintendents that they would no longer be assigned vehicles and that all vehicles must be returned to the agency vehicle pool.”

The department also “has reviewed the conduct of specific employees with regard to the improper personal use of agency vehicles and is pursuing action as warranted,” the report said, but did not elaborate.

In September 2009, the state Division of the Budget updated New York’s policy on the “acquisition, usage and assignment” of state vehicles to reduce expenses and help bridge a state budget deficit at the request of Gov. David A. Paterson.

However, former DOCCS Commissioner Brian Fischer, who retired in April, “continued to approve these vehicle assignments in disregard of” the revised state policy that “mandated restrictions on the assignment of vehicles to individual employees,” the report said.

To seek approval for the status quo, Mr. Fischer apparently sent “an inaccurate memorandum” to then-Deputy Secretary for Public Safety Denise O’Donnell claiming “questionable” past approval for the assignment of vehicles to superintendents and “omitting any reference to the assignment of vehicles to certain executive level staff,” the report said.

“The Inspector General determined that DOCCS superintendents and agency executives mainly use assigned vehicles not for emergencies or other necessary business purposes, but rather for commuting between their homes and workstations, thus receiving an additional, albeit unofficial, benefit,” the report said.

Collectively, jail officials drove a million miles in state vehicles commuting to and from work in 2009 and 2010.

“The use of these vehicles for commuting and non-business purposes was a waste of taxpayer dollars that should never have been sanctioned,” state Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott said in a news release.

Almost as soon as the revised policy went into effect, a complaint was filed against Mr. Taylor in 2009 that sparked this four-year investigation.

“While investigating the first complaint, the Inspector General ascertained that the Gouverneur Correctional Facility superintendent had a state vehicle specifically assigned to him, which he primarily used to commute daily between his home and the facility, a round trip of approximately 83 miles,” investigators said in their report. “When the Inspector General probed further, it uncovered that this practice was system-wide and longstanding.”

Investigators also found that Mr. Taylor used his state vehicle to stop at the Clayton Town Offices, Riverside Drive, to conduct town business.

“A member of the Clayton Volunteer Fire Department, the superintendent also drove his DOCCS vehicle to the fire station. In addition, he used his state vehicle to attend meetings of the Clayton Antique Boat Museum at the Clayton Museum and the Jefferson County Fire Advisory Board in Watertown,” investigators said.

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