NEW YORK (Reuters) - The head of New York City's jails is expected to resign on Friday amid mounting pressure following a series of scandals over the misuse of city property and his department's spying on city investigators, according to local media reports.
The reports said that Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte will resign following accusations that his department's watchdog spied on inspectors. Prior to those allegations, a Department of Investigation report had reprimanded him and other officials for improperly using city-issued vehicles for personal travel.
A spokeswoman for Mayor Bill de Blasio said she could not confirm reports that Ponte will step down. The city's Department of Correction did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Ponte, 70, had planned to retire within the next several months but decided to leave sooner because the scandals had become a distraction, The New York Times reported, citing anonymous sources.
Among those calling for Ponte's ouster were City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.
Still, de Blasio staunchly defended him in a radio interview on Thursday, saying Ponte had acknowledged his ethical mistake, was paying back the city for his personal use of a city-owned car and had made great strides in improving the city's jail system.
"I think this agency (under Ponte) has done extraordinary work with dealing with decades of mistakes that they inherited," de Blasio said on WNYC radio. "So, he has my confidence and I think he’s done really good work for this city."
De Blasio appointed Ponte in 2014 after making a campaign promise to reform Rikers Island jail, one of the three largest prison complexes in the United States by population.
Ponte has overseen a tripling of the number of cameras at Rikers and organized training for officers to defuse tense situations.
During his tenure, a number of Rikers Island employees have been prosecuted as authorities have sought to stem violence and corruption that have long plagued New York's main jail complex.
De Blasio, citing falling crime levels that he said portend a long-term trend, declared in March that the Rikers Island complex would close in as little as 10 years.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely and Brendan O'Brien; Editing by Bernadette Baum)