Here’s one way to determine whether something happened: You ask. And if you get conflicting answers, you seek evidence to prove one side is right and another wrong.
When the subject matter is a possibly improper financial transaction, it’s called following the money. Everyone does it, from law enforcement agencies to government watchdogs to journalists. In the case of former Angola warden Burl Cain, though, the Louisiana Inspector General’s office may not have gotten the memo.
I.G. Stephen Street’s office led one of three investigations that essentially cleared Cain of wrongdoing, despite a series of alleged improprieties, from payroll fraud to personal dealings with investors who had close ties to inmates at the maximum security prison.
The inspector general report said that a number of Angola employees did work on private properties owned by the Cain family while on leave from their day jobs, that they had not been pressured to do so, and that Cain had compensated them.
But two employees recently told The Advocate’s Gordon Russell that they spent nearly a week fixing up a home owned by Cain’s wife without pay. They said they were never interviewed by the I.G.’s office, and they declined to allow their names to be published for fear of retribution on the job, which seems like a reasonable concern under the circumstances. Asked to comment on the new allegations, Cain simply said “nope.”
If such payments exist, it wouldn’t be hard to show it (unless the transactions were conducted in cash, which raises other concerns). Cain told the Advocate that he’d provided checks to investigators from the corrections department, but the department declined to release them to the paper. Meanwhile, a former I.G. investigator who worked on the case said he didn’t remember interviewing anyone who hadn’t been paid, but recalled that some were not paid as much as they lost by taking leave.
Street declined to discuss how many workers his people interviewed, or how they determined which employees had been tapped to work on Cain’s personal properties. He did, however, say he was satisfied that the accusations were thoroughly vetted.
Absent hard evidence, I guess we’re supposed to take his word for it.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.