• Tue. Jun 18th, 2024

Amid NYC budget cuts, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina’s trip to London and Paris with 7 aides cost taxpayers $40K

Amid NYC budget cuts, Correction Commissioner Louis Molina's trip to London and Paris with 7 aides cost taxpayers $40K


Correction Commissioner Louis Molina’s trip with seven aides in September to London and Paris cost New York City taxpayers around $40,000, records obtained by the Daily News show.

Airfare for the Sept. 16 to Sept. 23 trip on Delta Air Lines cost $6,240 or $780 per person, hotel rooms totaled $21,201, and meals came to $9,080. Counting ground transportation and incidentals, the total price tag was $40,604, according to records provided to The News via a Freedom of Information Law request.

Molina justified the trip in a June 9 memo to his First Deputy Commissioner Lynelle Maginley-Liddie, saying it would “bring forth vast knowledge in understanding new initiatives and best practices.”

On Tuesday, Councilman Justin Brannan, chairman of the City Council Finance Committee, questioned the expense in a period when agency budgets are being slashed.

“At a time when the administration is cutting library service, schools, and trash pickups, an all-inclusive paid vacation to the Eiffel Tower is not sound management of our budget,” Brannan said. “You should not be asking New Yorkers to sacrifice while a team of agency executives are taking a European vacation to London and Paris, period.”

Councilwoman Gale Brewer called on Molina to disclose what was learned. “When will taxpayers receive a report from DOC about European jails, best practices and what new initiatives the department wants to adopt?” said Brewer, chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Investigations. “A report is an appropriate outcome of the visit, and the document should be public.”

Brewer said Molina could have saved money by meeting with his overseas counterparts on Zoom. On Sept. 9, right before Molina’s trip, the mayor’s budget office had barred out-of-state travel.

Five weeks after the trip — in late October — Adams announced Molina was leaving the Correction Department for a slot as assistant deputy mayor under Deputy Mayor for Public Safety Phil Banks.

In addition to visits to two jails in London and one in France during the week and holding five meetings with British and French jail officials, Molina and his aides were spotted at the Tower of London, 10 Downing St. and Big Ben, and took snapshots to memorialize the tour, The News first reported Sept. 20 and Sept. 22.

The records show taxpayers shelled out $11,601 for four nights of hotel rooms at London’s four-star Millennium Hotel Knightsbridge — a “retreat in the heart of London’s luxury fashion district” in an affluent area west of Buckingham Palace, near Harrods department store.

Hotel costs over three nights at Paris’ Crowne Plaza Republique cost $9,600 for the group, the records show. The hotel sits in a 157-year-old building in central Paris, near the Pablo Picasso Museum.

Taxpayers picked up the meal tab for the trip at a cost of $692 per person for the period in London and $443 per person for the period in Paris — a total of $1,135 per person. That works out to $9,080 for the entire eight-person travel party, the records show. The documents don’t indicate where the group took their meals.

The city paid $1,727 for ground transportation and $1,200 for an interpreter, the records show.

One person on the trip did not request full reimbursement of their costs — which the city said lowered the possible cost of the trip to $39,469. The difference appears to represent one person’s meal costs for the trip. It was unclear if that person would ask for full reimbursement in the future.

Stephane Plantin, a Correction Department lawyer, disclosed the trip data on Monday, in response to a letter from a lawyer for The News.

At least one Adams administration official questioned the cost of the airline tickets, emails show.

“Why are they flying the more expensive class? Less expensive fares available,” wrote Barbara Chazen, a City Hall official reviewing the request July 21.

“The slightly more expensive flights were chosen because the most basic flights do not allow for any unforeseen changes or full-value cancellation that may be necessary,” replied Jennifer Harley, a Molina aide.

Chazen also questioned the travel plan and the planned return the following Saturday Sept. 23. “What’s the activity on the 17th — I know is a Sunday,” she wrote. “What is their agenda on the 22nd?”

Molina’s Deputy Chief of Staff Howard Singer, a former NYPD sergeant, explained a “meet and greet/welcome” was planned for the 17th and a “possible extension of the visit” was planned for Sept. 22, which wound up being a visit with the French national police hostage unit.

Banks, the deputy mayor, formally approved the trip, Adams’ spokeswoman Kayla Mamelak said Tuesday.

Correction Department spokesman Frank Dwyer said Molina and senior staff were “invited” to visit the French and British jails and meet with their leadership. Discussions included the thorny issue of housing gangs together and adapting older buildings for modern jail needs.

In addition to Singer, Molina brought his aide-de-camp Davelle Williams, an assistant deputy warden, his head of training Robert Gonzalez, and his acting assistant chief Charlton Lemon, the records show.

He also brought three assistant commissioners — Danielle Davis, who worked with Molina in Las Vegas, Antoinette Cort and Sonya Harvey, the records show.

Dwyer said no one on the trip earned overtime.

The trip occurred amid the continuing crisis at Rikers Island and the city’s other lockups.

In the two months since the trip, detainee Manish Kunwar died of a possible overdose just seven days after he landed on Rikers Island — the ninth jail death in 2023.

A K-9 unit dog named Ryder died after she was left in a vehicle on Rikers Island all day. Correction Officer James Internicola was charged with pocketing $171,000 in overtime while vacationing in Aruba and the Jersey Shore.

On Nov. 5, the city agreed to pay $2.25 million to the family of Kevin Bryan, who was able to hang himself in the jails in September 2022 due in part to staff inattention.

The federal monitoring team tracking violence at Rikers and other city lockups reported Oct. 5 conditions had worsened in recent months and called the Correction Department’s efforts to fix problems “limited and ineffective.”

“All security and violence indicators remain alarmingly elevated,” the monitoring team wrote.

On Nov. 8, the monitoring team said it had “no confidence in the accuracy” of the agency’s stabbing and slashing figures. And on Nov. 19, the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan filed a letter arguing control of the jails be taken away from the city and turned over to an outside receiver, along with a 100-page motion filed by the Legal Aid Society seeking a receiver.



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