New York's inspector general has launched a statewide investigation into claims that high-ranking prison officials are using state cars for personal use.
In the midst of a state fiscal crisis, the investigation will also look into whether the prison officials should have state vehicles at all.
Inspector General Ellen Biben, a former deputy attorney general who handled public corruption cases, took over the office in January. She declined immediate comment.
Spokeswoman Kate Gurnett said Biben is taking a broad look at the Department of Correctional Services for official vehicles used for personal purposes, which is prohibited.
The department houses about 58,000 inmates at 67 prison facilities and a drug treatment center.
The statewide agency review followed complaints against some prison officials.
``We're aware of the investigation and correctional services is fully cooperating,'' spokeswoman Linda Foglia said.
Officials declined to immediately say how many vehicles they have or their designated purposes.
Under a 2009 directive from the Budget Division, state agency vehicles must be used only for official business except in certain limited circumstances. Agency heads and cabinet-rank officials are not to be assigned permanent vehicles but instead have use of their agency's fleet cars.
In 2009, then Inspector General Joseph Fisch criticized the State Liquor Authority and Department of Environmental Conservation for sanctioning the personal use of official vehicles by some staff, including an authority investigator who commuted in a government car between Albany and New York City, logging more than 41,000 miles with the state paying $5,500 for gas.
Biben led efforts to stop systemic abuse in the public pension system. That led to removing dozens of private attorneys who were put in the system through employment arrangements with school districts and local governments and the recovery of more than $2 million in wrongfully obtained pension payments.