After he became warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, it took Burl Cain more than a decade to move onto the prison’s property.
Now that he’s retired, he won’t move out.
Cain is still living in the three-bedroom, 4,360-square-foot Acadian-style house he had built from scratch for $150,000 and outfitted with a hot tub on Angola’s grounds. More significantly, perhaps, he is still collecting a regular paycheck, and will for many months to come, even though his resignation as warden was effective Jan. 1.
Department of Public Safety and Corrections spokeswoman Pam Laborde confirmed Cain is still living at the Warden’s House and isn’t required to hand over the keys until Feb. 15, according to the terms of his resignation.
Cain will be on paid “annual leave” until Aug. 31, which will allow him to collect about $134,000 in pay, Laborde said.
She said Cain had amassed two years and eight months worth of accrued sick and leave time during his time in corrections, which he loses upon his retirement. Had he been allowed to collect on that, the state would have owed him $468,703, Laborde said.
She added that it is “common practice for the department” to allow employees like Cain who benefited from the now-defunct “retire/rehire” program to burn some of their unused leave time.
Cain currently collects $228,939 a year from the state, an amount that includes annual retirement benefits of $61,728 in addition to his $167,211 salary. He will continue to receive the retirement payments after Aug. 31.
Built about 2005 at a bargain price with cheap inmate labor, the Warden’s House at Angola was outfitted with an array of furnishings including a $2,000 leather couch, $1,500 in mattresses, a $500 skylight and $918 in rugs. All told, the extras, all paid for by the state, cost $8,500, according to a contemporaneous Advocate article.
Cain had resisted living at Angola for more than a decade after he started as warden in 1995 because he deemed the old Warden’s House too decrepit, though his predecessor, John Whitley, had inhabited the home during his entire five-year tenure. Cain cited an architect’s report of the house that said it was structurally unsound.
For at least 11 years, Cain commuted 34 miles to Angola each day from the warden’s house at Dixon Correctional Institute in Jackson, which he continued to occupy even though he was no longer warden. That arrangement displaced Dixon’s then-warden, Jimmy LeBlanc, who in 2008 was named secretary of the corrections department by Gov. Bobby Jindal and who was recently reappointed to that post by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
LeBlanc was paid $4,810 each year to live in his own residence in Jackson, seven miles from Dixon, during that time.
The awkward living situation drew the ire of Dan Kyle, the then-state Legislative Auditor, who said the setup was “not an efficient use of public money” and was a potential security liability because wardens need to be available for emergencies at the prisons they supervise.
Cain also came under fire in the late 1990s for his lavish renovation of the Ranch House, an event space at Angola, where one year his entertainment expenses totaled $17,336, according to a 2006 Advocate article. He initially argued that the new Warden’s House should be used primarily for high-profile guests traveling to Angola from other states, but he eventually moved in.
While state corrections policy does not require wardens to live on-site, Laborde said, “it is natural that most do.”
Cain did not respond to requests for comment from The Advocate.
It’s not clear where Cain, who has had a state-provided house since the mid-1980s, plans to move after he vacates the Warden’s House.
On Dec. 23 — a couple weeks after Cain abruptly announced he would step down in the wake of an Advocate investigation into his West Feliciana Parish real-estate deals with men with close ties to inmates — he put his 4-bedroom, 4-bathroom house, located on Joor Road just outside Baton Rouge, on the market for an asking price of $495,000. Records show he purchased the house, set on a 20-acre estate including horse stables, a pool and a stocked pond, for $450,000 in March. It’s unclear how much time Cain or his family members spent at the house.
Cain has also at times listed an address on Dees Road in Jackson as his residence.
The corrections department still hasn’t publicly weighed in on whether Cain’s real estate business with those related to inmates violated department rules against “non-professional relationships” with offenders or their families. The agency has refused to provide The Advocate a copy of an internal review into Cain’s activities, citing a provision of public records law saying that records that are involved in law enforcement investigations can’t be released.
Cain is the subject of criminal investigations by the State Police and the state Inspector General’s office.
Cain was required to relinquish his duties as Angola warden and return all state-issued equipment and vehicles on Jan. 1, Laborde said. He agreed to remove his personal property from administrative offices by Jan. 5.
While on annual leave, Cain could still be subject to disciplinary action, “should the administrative and criminal reviews currently ongoing result in any finding necessitating disciplinary action,” Laborde said.
Cain was allowed to prolong his exit from Angola out of consideration for stability at the 6,200-bed, maximum security prison during the transition, Laborde said.
“Warden Cain has provided his assistance during this process and has pledged to continue to do so as needed while on leave,” she added.
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.