New York

Joseph Ponte, Chief of Embattled New York City Department of Correction, Retires Amid Controversy

Mayor de Blasio had been defending Joseph Ponte amid reports of his department's misuse of city resources; the head of the City Council, however, has called for him to resign

What to Know

  • Joseph Ponte has worked in corrections for more than 40 years; he became commissioner of the city's DOC in April 2014
  • Retirement comes after reports from city's Department of Investigation that Ponte violated rules regarding personal use of city vehicles
  • It also comes after DOI said correction staffers were caught spying on investigators during the vehicle probe

The head of New York City's embattled Department of Correction announced plans to retire Friday, a day after NBC 4 New York reported he would step down amid a series of controversies, the latest of which involved alleged misuse of city resources.

Joseph Ponte, whose career in corrections has spanned more than four decades, was appointed commissioner in April 2014. In a statement Friday afternoon, he thanked staff at DOC for their work to bring about "meaningful reform and build a culture of safety" at the department over the years.

"It was a privilege to work with the men and women of the department as we reduced violence and the overuse of punitive segregation, brought on 3,700 new officers, retrained a large part of the staff, added thousands of security cameras, and provided new opportunities for education and training for inmates, among many other initiatives," Ponte's statement said. "I’m confident that all the hard work we’ve accomplished has positioned the department for even more meaningful reform in the days ahead."

Ponte's retirement announcement comes two days after Democratic City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito broke with Mayor de Blasio in calling for the commissioner to resign. De Blasio had defended Ponte amid the latest allegations. The mayor lauded Ponte's contributions in a statement Friday, thanking him for his "tireless" efforts to "improve the effectiveness of one of the nation's most challenging jail systems."

"While much work remains, there is no doubt that our city’s jails are safer, more rehabilitative, and more humane as a result of Commissioner Ponte’s work," de Blasio said.

Ponte, a Marine Corps veteran, previously led the Maine Department of Corrections, where he instituted substantial reforms. It was to Maine that the city's Department of Investigation, which investigates city agencies, officers or employees for potential corruption, alleged Ponte drove a city-owned vehicle in violation of guidelines

Other Department of Correction officials were accused of misusing their agency cars as well, including Deputy Commissioner Cynthia Brann, the woman a source familiar with the situation says has been tapped to replace Ponte, in the report issued by DOI late last month. The report said those personal trips cost the city thousands of dollars in gas and tolls. 

On Wednesday, in calling for Ponte's resignation, Mark-Viverito said lower-level city employees have been suspended or even fired for such offenses.

At the time the report came out, a Correction Department spokesman said any rule violation was a misunderstanding and would not recur. De Blasio's office also backed Ponte, saying he had presided over "sweeping reforms" and the mayor wasn't focusing on how often he visited his family on weekends.

A week after the report on vehicle use came out, the DOI issued another report alleging Gregory Kuczinski, the deputy commissioner for the Investigation Division and Correction Intelligence Bureau, directed subordinates to spy on DOI undercover operations. Those orders came "immediately after he and other senior staff were informed that DOI was preparing a report on their improper use of vehicles," the report said. 

Kuczinski was relieved of his investigation and call-monitoring responsibilities. DOI Commissioner Mark Peters had called for him to be fired. De Blasio said at the time the allegations were "serious and troubling" and that his office would work with both departments to "determine what happened and what changes must occur to ensure that it doesn't happen again." 

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