Why have a state credit card with your name on it? You can, if you are in the Cain family business, just tell employees of the Corrections Department to charge stuff for you.
That is what prosecutors allege was a frequent practice for Nate Cain and his estranged wife Tonia Cain. Until recently, Nate Cain ran the Avoyelles Correctional Center in Cottonport, one of the locations of the iron-bars empire of Nate Cain's father, longtime Angola warden Burl Cain.
After numerous press disclosures of self-dealing and insider connections at the department, the trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria may seem a bit of an afterthought. Father and son are now retired, Nate Cain with a lifetime disability payment after 15 years with Corrections.
The abuse of credit cards, even if in another's name, shows how the informal arrangement of power works in the corrections system. The Cains acted more as a royal family in the department than employees.
While neither Nate nor Tonia Cain had a state-billed credit card in their own name, the state Inspector-General's Office said it was “commonplace” for the two to direct other prison employees to buy items for them using such cards.
The federal indictment charges that the Cains sometimes used other employees' state credit cards themselves, and sometimes visited local stores with the employees in tow and directed them to buy things for the Cains. In other cases, the Cains gave employees "a 'shopping list' of personal items" they needed and told them to use the credit cards.
If backed up in federal court, the charges are serious; in Nate Cain's case, 18 counts of fraud.
What we see, though, is a pattern of abuse that had a ton of witnesses, the employees who were told to make the purchases, the merchants who in a relatively small town could hardly have been universally unaware of what was going on.
Who was oblivious? Start with the longtime head of the Corrections Department, Jimmy LeBlanc, who had close family and business ties with the elder Cain.
In most businesses, the imperious behavior of the Cains might have set off alarms and led to at least some corrective action. In the department headed by LeBlanc, it took stories in the newspaper to move a complaisant management to act.
LeBlanc is said to be a favorite of sheriffs, some of whom profit handsomely from housing Corrections' inmates in their jails. Gov. John Bel Edwards, who retained LeBlanc from the previous administration, even as Cain-related abuses were coming to light, is the son and grandson of sheriffs.
Where does ultimate responsibility lie? The courtroom in Alexandria will be the scene of discussion for one management failing under LeBlanc's watch. But there are too many others for the governor to ignore.
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