Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards said Tuesday he wasn’t concerned that the man he named to run the state’s prisons supervised a warden who is under investigation.
Jimmy LeBlanc is the only Cabinet-level holdover from Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration and one of the few secretaries that served out Jindal’s entire term.
He’s also a close friend and former business partner of Burl Cain. The 73-year-old Cain was warden of the nation’s largest maximum-security prison until he resigned in December under the cloud of an investigation into his business activities.
“He (Cain) is retiring, and I have had conversations with Jimmy, obviously, and with other individuals looking into the situation surrounding Warden Cain, and I’m absolutely confident that Jimmy has always served the state well and is not entailed in any of those things that are being investigated. And I’m excited to see him here,” Edwards said.
Edwards will be sworn in Monday and announced about dozen staffers and Cabinet secretaries for his incoming administration at a news conference on Tuesday.
Edwards chose Johnny Bradberry, who was transportation secretary in Gov. Kathleen Blanco’s administration, to lead the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.
Term-limited Republican state Sen. Robert Adley, of Benton, will take over as executive director of the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port, one of the nation’s largest oil trading and distribution centers.
State Fire Marshal Butch Browning will remain in his job.
LeBlanc oversees 11 prisons and some law enforcement agencies with about 4,800 employees.
LeBlanc said he and Edwards were on the same page in efforts to reduce the prison population in a state that has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Louisiana’s prison population has been dropping, and LeBlanc said the new governor is interested in those programs.
“We had conversations during his campaign and since he has been elected on where we need to be. And I understand what he wants to do,” LeBlanc said.
The last couple of months of LeBlanc’s eight-year tenure have been marred by a controversy involving longtime Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Cain, a close friend, former business partner and nominal subordinate of LeBlanc’s.
An Advocate investigation revealed that Cain, while developing a large tract of vacant land in West Feliciana Parish, had taken on two partners with close ties to state prisoners. Cain’s financial dealings appeared to violate state rules that bar relationships between correctional employees and relatives and close friends of inmates they supervise.
LeBlanc said he was aware that Cain had been involved in a real estate development but not who Cain may have sold the property to. “That was totally outside the department. I didn’t know anything about that,” LeBlanc said in an interview after Edwards made his announcement.
LeBlanc announced last month that the Department of Public Safety and Corrections would conduct an internal investigation to see whether Cain had violated that rule. He said he was recusing himself to avoid any question of favoritism, citing his long friendship with Cain. The probe, he said, would be overseen by Thomas Bickham, the department’s undersecretary.
Corrections representatives told The Advocate that the department’s internal probe has been completed, but the department has so far declined to provide a copy to the newspaper.
“We haven’t released no reports yet. I haven’t seen anything,” LeBlanc said, adding that when the report is complete, he will turn it over to the inspector general, the legislative auditor and the State Police.
Cain’s real estate dealings also are being scrutinized by the state legislative auditor.
Separately, the state’s inspector general and the State Police announced that investigators from both agencies have opened a criminal probe targeting Cain, though they have not revealed the focus of the investigation.
At the news conference, Edwards also tapped Chuck Brown to run the state Department of Environmental Quality. Brown is president of Brown and Associates, a private, global environmental consulting services firm based in Baton Rouge. Before, Brown had worked as assistant secretary responsible for the issuance of all air, water and waste permits.
Edwards also selected Jim Waskom as director of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. Waskom is a retired U.S. Army colonel and served three combat tours during operations Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn totaling 30 months in a combat zone. He is a lawyer in Lafayette.
Gordon Russell, of The Advocate, contributed to this report. Follow Mark Ballard on Twitter, @MarkBallardCNB. For more coverage of government and politics, follow our Politics Blog at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/.