When Burl Cain steps down as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola on Jan. 1, it will be the second time he has retired from the position.
In 2002, Cain exploited a now-closed loophole called “retire/rehire” that has allowed him to receive a full salary and retirement benefits for over a decade.
That has meant that on top of his $167,211 salary, the warden has been able to collect $5,144 in retirement benefits from the state each month, for an annual haul of $228,939.
Legal settlements also appear to obligate a portion of Cain’s state retirement benefits to each of his two ex-wives.
Since 2003, he has racked up $773,730 in retirement benefits thanks to the legal loophole, according to officials from the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System, or LASERS.
This month, the 73-year-old warden announced his retirement again, in the wake of stories published by The Advocate that scrutinized his private business dealings and prompted two government probes. This time, it appears, Cain actually plans to hang it up for good.
He will continue to collect the $5,144 retirement benefit each month after he retires again in January, said LASERS spokeswoman Tonja Normand.
Cain has paid another $73,458 into a retirement account. Upon his departure, he will receive that sum, plus $24,117 for 300 hours of unused time off, according to LASERS and officials for Louisiana State Civil Service. Though Cain has banked more than 300 hours of vacation and sick time over his career, that is the maximum for which he can be reimbursed, civil service spokeswoman Lindsay Ruiz de Chavez said.
Cain served as an employee representative on the Civil Service Commission for 20 uninterrupted years beginning in 1990. When he retired the first time, a political adversary campaigned for his removal from the elected position, claiming the warden’s retirement should disqualify him from serving as the representative for current employees. But Cain fought off the challenge, and commission records indicate that Cain continued to serve until 2010, when he resigned.
State Rep. Jim Fannin, R-Jonesboro, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, was critical of the 2001 legislation that allowed employees to retire and be rehired. Minus a few absent legislators, the bill passed unanimously in both houses of the Legislature. Among the yea votes was then-state Sen. James David Cain, the warden’s brother.
While the measure received wide support, the new retirement rules wound up having a deep effect on Louisiana, Fannin said.
“I think it was a terrible way to do business,” he said.
While Cain has benefited from the system for the last 12 years, it’s unclear at this point whether the state will end up poorer in the long run. Thanks to the raises Cain has received since his 2002 “retirement,” he would have been eligible for a much larger benefit upon his Jan. 1 departure had he not retired the first time.
In that scenario, his retirement benefit would have been close to his $167,211 salary — which means he might have collected more money in the long run if he hadn’t taken advantage of the 2001 loophole. It will depend on how many more years Cain collects benefits.
Fannin took office in 2003, a year after the 2001 legislation was repealed. It was not immediately clear Monday how many state employees are presently receiving paychecks and retirement benefits, and LASERS does not maintain a specific record, but hundreds have profited, including a former commissioner of higher education, staffers for the governor and Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc — Cain’s boss.
In the 2002 session, the state passed new legislation that effectively ended the retire-rehire practice. Retired state workers — except those grandfathered, like Cain — would have to suspend their benefits to go back to work, repay their benefits with interest, or take a large pay cut. Some employees can appeal for exceptions, such as long-time workers who are appointed to a new job by a governor.
When reached Monday afternoon, Cain declined to comment, saying he was acting on the advice of his attorney.
In an email, corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde defended LeBlanc’s use of the retire/rehire system.
“Secretary LeBlanc retired with 30 years of state service and chose work beyond that, which was allowed by statute and which many other state employees opted for as well (not just Corrections.) These are retirement benefits that he paid for and rightfully earned.”
Staff writer Gordon Russell contributed to this report. Follow Steve Hardy on Twitter, @SteveRHardy.