A grand jury on Thursday indicted Tonia Cain, the wife of former prison warden Nate Cain, on charges of theft of $25,000 or more, malfeasance and injuring public records, according to Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle III.
Both Cains resigned from their posts at Avoyelles Correctional Center in May 2016 amid a series of investigations into their actions at the state prison, where Tonia Cain served as business manager. But Thursday's indictment was the first time that a member of the Cain family has faced criminal charges.
The indictment grew out of a legislative audit that suggested Tonia Cain had ordered subordinates to shred records related to concession sales at the prison to hide the fact that more than $30,000 in cash was missing.
The missing cash totaled $31,170 over an 18-month period, according to the audit. The money — which came from the sale of food and other items — was meant to benefit five clubs that help to rehabilitate inmates.
Tonia Cain was “the only employee to regularly obtain and/or count cash concessions collections alone,” auditors found.
Jodie Bordelon, a subordinate of Tonia Cain’s who often helped count the cash, told auditors that Tonia Cain made her delete Cain’s initials from some paperwork after the missing money came under scrutiny. Bordelon said she also was directed to replace some original sales records with a set that had been altered and to shred some original records.
One such set of altered records was provided to The Advocate, which asked for sales records in a public records request.
Riddle said months ago that he planned to present the findings of the audit to a grand jury.
Jill Craft, Tonia Cain's attorney, denied her client committed any crimes.
"Tonia is innocent, and we are confident that when a jury finally hears all of the real evidence she will be exonerated," Craft said.
Craft denied that Tonia Cain ever counted money alone, and she offered a number of alternative explanations for the missing money, suggesting that another employee, or an inmate, could easily be responsible. For instance, she wrote that auditors ought to consider the possibility that Bordelon, rather than Cain, was the culprit.
The money that auditors determined was missing was collected from vending machines that dispense tickets or tokens in exchange for cash at the Cottonport prison, which was renamed Raymond Laborde Correctional Center after the Cains' departure.
The tickets are generally purchased by visitors, who may then buy food and other items from an inmate-run commissary. The system is set up to keep cash out of inmates’ hands.
Craft has said the accounting practices for the money and tickets were unreliable, and that the ticket machines often jammed, meaning there was no telling how many unpaid tickets might have gotten into circulation.
According to Craft, at least two other employees played a role in the counting of the money. She also said an inmate who helped manage the concessions stand often gave items away on credit, which could account for the disparity between the value of items sold and the money collected.
"Unfortunately, the legislative auditor made findings based on the word of a convicted offender and whatever homemade records he chose to fill out," Craft said. "This same offender was also alleged to have been giving away food and food tickets to other inmates which he, in turn, presumably logged as sales of food. They were not."
At least one additional investigation into Tonia and Nate Cain — the eldest son of legendary former Angola prison warden Burl Cain — remains open. That probe, focusing on purchases made with state credit cards that apparently benefited the couple, is being spearheaded by state Inspector General Stephen Street's office. Street has said that investigation remains active.
Nate Cain was also reprimanded by corrections department brass for using a state credit card to spend more than $76,000 building a home on prison grounds without state authorization. And he was written up for allegedly undermining a rape investigation involving a subordinate who was accused of having sex with an inmate.
Neither of those inquiries is expected to result in criminal charges against either of the Cains.
Riddle said Tonia Cain's arraignment on the charges handed up Thursday has not been scheduled yet but will take place within four to six weeks.
Craft initially represented both Cains, but Nate Cain is now represented by lawyer John McLindon.