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Probe targets use of labor, supplies

Officials at Florida State Prison and neighboring New River Correctional Institution face an internal probe into whether a captain improperly used prison labor and supplies to renovate his garage and whether a bar was added to a prison VIP suite.

The internal investigation began months before Florida State Prison became engulfed in a homicide investigation following the death of inmate Frank Valdes. The cases remain open in part because so many corrections resources are focused on the Valdes case, a Corrections spokesman said.

At the center of the internal investigation is Capt. Allen Clark, who as a sergeant four years earlier had been suspended for assaulting inmates at New River Correctional Institution. That incident proved a brief bump in Clark's career, as he rose to acting colonel at New River and was even recently named supervisor of the year.

Early last month, just as investigators submitted their reports, Clark was transferred to Lancaster Correctional Facility, though spokesman C.J. Drake said it was not a disciplinary move.

The Department of Corrections in April received an anonymous tip that Clark was fraudulently using prison supplies and labor to add a bar to his state-owned garage. Clark is among dozens of corrections officers who pay less than $50 a month to live in state houses around Florida State Prison.

An internal investigation quickly spread to look at everything from Clark's handling of employee club funds to officers improperly using prison radios while volunteering at Gov. Jeb Bush's inauguration celebration.

Corrections investigators found that the bar in question apparently was built for a guest suite being renovated at Florida State Prison. That bar _ a U-shaped, birch plywood number with a padded top and a treated wood foot rail _ provoked considerable discussion among prison officials and investigators over whether it was a bar or a particularly spiffy breakfast nook.

It's not clear from inspector general's records what they concluded after three months, even after Corrections Secretary Michael Moore ordered additional interviews in June.

But investigators did point to a number of apparent policy violations at New River and Florida State: that New River staff members attended private charitable state fundraisers while on the clock; that New River was left with a shortage of radio equipment because officers took 20 to 30 radios while helping with Jeb Bush's January inauguration; that Clark took prison furniture to his home for a party without permission; and that he used inmates and corrections staff members to renovate his garage without proper authorization.

One "critical" post at New River was left unstaffed, records indicate, because the officer was placed on "special assignment," supervising inmates upgrading Clark's garage.

"I look forward to the truth coming out. It's all unfounded," said Clark, who declined to discuss the investigations in detail because the outcomes are still pending.

Though others contradicted him, Clark said he had permission to upgrade the garage with paneling he got from a nearby gym, tiles he obtained from nearby Union Correctional Institution and orange and blue paint he bought himself.

Sergeant Brian Baldwin told investigators that Clark talked about creating a "Gator room" and having a bar installed.

At one point, Clark did bring to his garage a console of cabinets and kitchen appliances from Florida State Prison, but returned them after a prison electrician found insufficient wiring to handle the equipment.

Investigators spent three months examining the circumstances of a bar being built for the Florida State Prison guest quarters. The bar was a joint project of Florida State Prison Warden James Crosby and New River Warden Michael Rathman, who wanted to renovate the suite historically used by secretaries of correction.

Crosby told investigators he had wanted the work done as simply and cheaply as possible, and Rathman said he put Clark in charge of the project because "the chiefs around here don't have a lot to do" and Clark could "ramrod" the project.