WASHINGTON -- Lauro F. Cavazos, the former education secretary, is the target of a criminal investigation by the Justice and Education departments in connection with his travel as head of the agency, Bush administration officials said yesterday.
The disclosure comes on the heels of a controversy over the use of military aircraft by White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu. President Bush unveiled Thursday a new policy that sharply restricts Mr. Sununu's use of military planes at taxpayer expense to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
The Cavazos inquiry centers on whether the former secretary used frequent-flier mileage for commercial flights that he took on government business to obtain free travel for his wife, Peggy Ann, the officials said.
To have done so, they said, would be a violation of regulations that require officials to use such travel bonuses for government business only.
Investigators are also examining whether Mr. Cavazos booked flights on Trans World Airlines, where one of the couple's sons is employed, so that his wife could accompany him at no cost, using their son's travel privileges.
Mr. Cavazos sometimes took circuitous routes that raised the cost of his travel, the officials said.
The investigation is seeking to determine whether Mr. Cavazos' travel practices constituted a theft of government funds, a criminal offense, the administration officials said. The officials would not say how much money might be involved or if Mr. Cavazos reimbursed the government for any of the couple's travels.
A spokesman for the Education Department confirmed that the agency's inspector general was conducting an investigation, as first disclosed yesterday by Newsday.
A spokesman for the Justice Department declined to comment. But administration officials and congressional aides spoke about the inquiry on condition they not be identified.
Mr. Cavazos resigned in December under pressure from the White House, where he was regarded as a weak official. Education Department officials said that he departed with such rancor that he did not leave a telephone number.
Officials at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where Mr. Cavazos was once president, said he lived in Concord, Mass.
A family member in Concord, who declined to identify himself, said yesterday that Mr. Cavazos was vacationing and could not be reached.