When he was running for governor, John Bel Edwards liked to remind voters that he lives by the West Point honor code: “I will not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those who do.”
But that idealistic young cadet is nowhere to be found now that Edwards is governor and faces a growing series of scandals in his prison system.
The scandals center on the two-decade reign of Burl Cain as warden of the state’s largest prison, the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. Cain retired last year after The Advocate wrote about his business relationship with two men who were allied with inmates in the prison system.
Cain was gone by the time Edwards took the oath in January, but the new governor cast his lot with the status quo when he reappointed Jimmy LeBlanc — Cain’s close friend and former business partner — as head of the state Department of Public Safety and Corrections.
Last month, the state inspector general cleared Cain after an inquiry into his practice of having his employees work on two of his private homes.
But the ink was hardly dry on the inspector general’s report when two employees came forward saying they were asked to work on one of the homes and were not paid. They said the state investigators never interviewed them.
Then last week, Greg Phares, the freshly retired lead investigator on the case, said he does not fully stand by the report. “The inspector general’s statement that I agree with his findings on Mr. Cain was included without my knowledge or consent. I do not entirely concur with his conclusions,” Phares said.
In an earlier interview, Phares said some prison employees who worked on Cain’s homes were not paid the value of their leave time, but that fact was omitted from the report by Inspector General Stephen Street.
Last week, the governor was asked whether he had confidence in the inspector general’s report.
“We were made aware of this issue regarding employees at Burl Cain’s properties through the reporting of The Advocate recently,” he said. “While those activities, if true, are concerning, we cannot direct the inspector general to investigate it.
“We would ask your colleagues to follow up with the inspector general on his investigation.”
This is a lawyerly dodge.
A better answer might have been for the governor to explain that it is bad policy for state employees to be pressed into service working on the homes of their bosses. He could personally guarantee that anyone who comes forward will not be penalized for truth-telling. And he could promise an investigation that is fearless and unbiased, like the ones he oversaw as vice chairman of the Honor Committee at West Point.
The governor owes more to the taxpayers of Louisiana. And he owes more to the employees at the corrections department, who have the tough and tedious job of protecting us from the state’s most dangerous criminals.