WASHINGTON – The $16 muffin that became a reviled symbol of government waste didn’t cost $16 after all.

That’s the new conclusion of Justice Department auditors, who last month had criticized the department for spending $16.80 apiece for the notorious pastries at a conference at the Capitol Hilton in Washington.

On Friday, acting Justice Department Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar issued a revised report on the department’s conference expenditures. Her new finding: The muffins were part of a continental breakfast that also included items such as coffee, juice and other pastries.

The new report does not break out a cost for the muffins alone, but a Hilton spokesman said the entire breakfast cost about $16 per person, including taxes and service charges.

“The department did not pay $16 per muffin,” Schnedar wrote, saying that she regretted the error and that the original conclusion “brought significant negative publicity to the Department and the Capital Hilton.”

The new audit attributed the error to the Justice Department itself. The report said the department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review, which sponsored the 2009 conference, had documents showing that the muffins were not as expensive as initially reported. That office “inadvertently” did not give the documents to the inspector general during the audit.

The alleged $16 muffin caused a major stir at a time when austerity and belt-tightening are the watchwords in Washington. Republicans and Democrats alike blasted the government and held up the pastries as emblems of wasteful spending.