Two state prison officials retire amid ongoing probes at Avoyelles Correctional Center _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Entrance to Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport.

Nate Cain, the eldest son of former Angola warden Burl Cain and the leader of a Cottonport prison that’s come under investigation, stepped down Tuesday, the state corrections department said Wednesday.

Nate Cain’s departure follows the retirements of two other top officials at the Avoyelles Correctional Center -- one involving his wife, Tonia -- in addition to the resignation of the state corrections department’s longtime spokeswoman, all of which happened in the last several days.

Officials have been mum on what exactly they’re scrutinizing at the Avoyelles lockup, but the probes come on the heels of The Advocate’s requests for documents showing credit card and inmate concession transactions, as well as records of a prison rape investigation. The Department of Public Safety and Corrections is conducting an internal investigation, while the state Inspector General’s Office, a law enforcement agency specializing in public corruption, has initiated its own probe.

Troy Poret, a deputy warden at the Avoyelles lockup who has been serving as acting warden at the penitentiary since Nate Cain was placed on leave in April, will continue in that role, corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc said in a prepared statement.

“I am confident that the staff at AVC will continue to support Acting Warden Poret during this transition period and I deeply appreciate his willingness to serve the Department in this capacity thus far,” LeBlanc said in the statement, adding that he encourages qualified applicants to apply for the Avoyelles warden job through the state civil service website.

Earlier this month, the corrections department said it had shut down construction of a building at the Avoyelles prison that was at one point nicknamed the “Ranch House” — a structure Nate Cain had poured at least $76,000 in state money into without approval. An event space known as the Ranch House was given a lavish renovation at the Angola prison under Burl Cain.

But Jill Craft, a Baton Rouge-based attorney for Nate and Tonia Cain, said her clients’ departures had primarily to do with Nate Cain’s health problems, not the probes or any possible disciplinary action. She declined to disclose the nature of Nate Cain’s health issues, citing medical privacy laws.

“It has been an ongoing problem in his life, and it has been an ongoing situation of which the Department of Public Safety and Corrections has been aware,” Craft said.

Craft said neither Nate Cain nor Tonia Cain currently face any disciplinary action from the corrections department. Tonia Cain, Craft said, retired out of concern for her husband.

“If you love somebody and they have a serious health issue, wouldn’t you do the same thing?” she said.

Craft said the corrections department has seized her clients’ computers, clothing and other belongings and aired concerns that “folks have been rifling through their personal property without any type of warrant.”

Nate and Tonia Cain lived in a house on the grounds of the Avoyelles prison but have been having trouble moving out because of restricted access to their possessions, Craft said.

Natalie LaBorde, a corrections spokeswoman, said Tuesday the department can’t comment on details about the ongoing investigation at the Avoyelles prison.

Craft also disputed claims that Nate Cain built a ranch house at the Avoyelles prison without approval, saying an identical structure was erected at the C. Paul Phelps Correctional Center in Dequincy with permission from headquarters. Nate Cain had been a deputy warden at that lockup.

“They (the architectural drawings) were plans that got approved very recently,” Craft said. She didn’t directly address how the building plans at Phelps translated to approval for a similar structure at Avoyelles, but she suggested that corrections officials should have known about the Avoyelles construction because it was erected near the prison’s front gate.

“Are they claiming they didn’t know anything about it?” she said.

The corrections department, through former spokeswoman Pam Laborde, has insisted Nate Cain’s construction project at Avoyelles wasn’t approved. Laborde announced her resignation on Monday.

Over the course of two months, five Avoyelles prison employees — Nate and Tonia Cain, who was the penitentiary’s business manager, as well as Paul Gaspard, a deputy warden, and internal investigators Beau Milligan and Randon Harrington — had been placed on leave tied to two ongoing probes. Gaspard retired May 18. Milligan and Harrington remain on leave, Natalie LaBorde said.

“Nathan has served this department and served this state for 17 years without any issues,” Craft said. “I would ask that everybody take a deep breath and evaluate things fairly, openly and honestly, without any preconceptions.”

“Simply because his last name is Cain does not mean anything untoward. That’s his dad, and that’s his family. That’s it,” she said.

Editor's note: This story was updated Thursday morning, May 26, 2016, to clarify the number of recent corrections department retirements.

Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.