Burl Cain still living in Angola warden’s house, will be on ‘paid leave’ through August _lowres

Advocate staff photo by TRAVIS SPRADLING -- Warden Burl Cain talks about the sugar cane operation at Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Tuesday, as inmates and corrections staff work together to make syrup from cane planted on the prison's grounds.

The legislative auditor is examining the private real estate dealings of Angola warden Burl Cain, who did business with two men, a family member of one state inmate and a friend of another, in apparent violation of corrections department policies.

The auditor’s involvement is good news because taxpayers are unlikely to have much confidence in the internal probe being launched by the Department of Corrections itself. Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc recused himself because he is Cain’s close friend and business partner, so he turned the probe over to Undersecretary Thomas Bickham.

Presumably, Bickham’s duties in such a probe would include interviewing his boss, since corrections department personnel regulations ban “nonprofessional relationships with offenders or with offenders’ families or friends” and mandate that “mail or phone calls received from offenders or their families outside the normal course and scope of the employee’s job duties must be reported at the earliest opportunity to the employee’s supervisor.”

Cain has presided over Angola for two decades, but now the mother of a murdered man is saying it’s time for him to go. Alida Anthony’s son, Justin Fitzgerald, was 23 years old when he was shot in the back of the head by Jason Lormand. Lormand’s stepfather, Carencro businessman Charles Chatelain, is one of two men who invested in a subdivision Cain was building in West Feliciana Parish. Before the investment, Lormand benefited from coveted assignments, including a spot at the Governor’s Mansion, which inmates see as the best chance for a clemency petition. The other investor was Baton Rouge businessman William Ourso. He befriended inmate Leonard Nicholas, whose appeal was aided by an unusual deathbed confession videotaped by Cain, in which another man claimed credit for the killing for which Nicholas is serving time.

Ultimately, the decision about Cain and LeBlanc will be made by Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards. The new governor is in a tough spot politically. He is the brother and son of sheriffs in Tangipahoa Parish, and his endorsement by the state sheriffs’ association was a key to his victory last month.

Cain wants his friend to keep his job. “If any governor is smart, he’ll reappoint Secretary LeBlanc,” Cain said over the summer. “Otherwise, it’ll show he’s an idiot.”

Cain and LeBlanc are important friends for the sheriffs, many of whom rely on a stream of state inmates to fill their local lock-ups. Some rural sheriffs have borrowed to build large jails, counting on the continuing supply of offenders and cash.

Edwards has promised to end Louisiana’s reign as America’s leading jailer, and that means crimping the pipeline of inmates flowing to places like Richland Parish, which has 800 jail beds — roughly one for every 25 residents — and fills them with offenders from other parts of Louisiana.

If Edwards wants to keep his promise, he’ll have to unwind decades of bad public policy. It will take guts and vision, and Louisiana might benefit from a set of fresh eyes at the corrections department.