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Probe: Prison official steered food contracts

ALBANY— The former director of food services for New York’s prisons, once lauded for cost-cutting innovation, took favors including three-day picnics, years of free dinners and other parties in exchange for steering $2.5 million worth of contracts to vendors, state investigators said Tuesday.

One of the companies given contracts was prohibited from doing business with the state, and was even provided the “secret recipe” for a prison cheese sauce to help assure a winning bid.

Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Inspector General Joseph Fisch said Howard Dean, who retired in 2008 as the food director, created a culture that led subordinates to accept the practice.

“It really shows a situation where those that should have been looking carefully were instead casting a blind eye,” DiNapoli said. “It undermined what should be a process of open competition.”

The findings have been referred to the Oneida County District Attorney’s Office for possible criminal prosecution and to the state Public Integrity Commission for possible ethics charges.

“It’s ironic that Dean, as head of a criminal justice system, was no less a law violator than the prison population he was charged with feeding,” Fisch said. He added that the scheme was so blatant “the only thing missing from advertising his misbehavior was neon lights.”

Dean is accused of contracting with Global Food Industries of South Carolina, a company barred form state contracts because it is accused of discriminating against New York-based businesses. Fisch said Dean even provided Global the recipe for the cheese sauce used in the so-called “cook-chill process,” which was an advantage not afforded other potential bidders.

A spokesman for the company didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Dean was once credited as the “czar” of the cook-chill program in the prison system, which lowered state costs, improved food quality and reduced complaints by prisoners.

In April, Dean was accused of skipping Friday work shifts for 17 years and fraudulently collecting pay for the time off. DiNapoli and Fisch said upper management looked the other way.

Dean didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.