Two Louisiana corrections employees say they spent nearly a week working on a private home in Baton Rouge, owned by the wife of former Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola Warden Burl Cain, and didn’t receive a dime for their labors.
The men, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they fear retribution from their superiors, said they were never questioned by Louisiana’s Office of Inspector General, the agency that recently investigated Cain’s use of subordinates to fix up properties he and his wife own. The inspector general’s report essentially cleared the former warden, concluding that the employees who worked on the Cains’ homes were not on the state clock when they did so and that Cain compensated them for their work.
Those findings were released on the same day as the results of two other inquiries into Cain and the Angola prison; none of them found any wrongdoing.
The investigations were announced in December, shortly after Cain — the longtime warden of Louisiana’s largest maximum-security prison — agreed to resign amid questions about whether he had violated correctional rules when he took on investors in a real-estate deal who had close ties to inmates.
The accounts by the two workers raise more questions about how thorough investigators have been in examining allegations of misconduct during Cain’s 20-year tenure at Angola.
The recent release of the full narrative of one of the three probes — a State Police inquiry into possible payroll fraud by Assistant Warden Kenneth Norris, who is married to Cain’s niece — showed that investigators didn’t gather documents to verify some of their findings. Instead, they relied in part on verbal assurances from Norris, and they opted not to go further when Norris said he couldn’t supply records that might have helped establish his whereabouts on certain dates.
The Inspector General’s Office, meanwhile, has declined to release the full contents of its investigation, in keeping with its usual practice. In a letter to The Advocate, the office’s general counsel, Joe Lotwick, cited a law that says “records prepared or obtained by the inspector general in connection with investigations ... shall be deemed confidential.”
The two men who spoke to The Advocate said they made sure to fill out “leave slips” when they worked on the Cains’ home in the Broadmoor subdivision of Baton Rouge, so they didn’t commit payroll fraud. But they said Cain didn’t pay them either; they did the work because they felt obligated to do so when the boss requested it. Both said they felt their careers could have been hurt by refusing.
The men said they did not deal directly with Cain, but that his wife, Jonalyn, was on-site during some of the time they worked there. The home is occupied by Jonalyn Cain’s aunt, and property records show it listed in Jonalyn Cain’s name.
The two men said they are not the only ones who worked on one or more of the Cains’ private properties and were not interviewed by the investigators from the IG’s Office.
They’re also not the only ones who didn’t get paid, they said.
Asked by The Advocate whether he wanted to comment on the allegations, Cain offered a one-word answer: “Nope.”
Inspector General Stephen Street summarized his office’s findings in a letter to the state’s corrections secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc. It said the IG’s investigation focused on work done at two Cain-owned properties — the home in Broadmoor where the two men who spoke to The Advocate worked, and a house on Joor Road near Central that Cain bought in 2015 and sold early this year.
Street has generally declined to speak about the details of his office’s investigation, such as which employees investigators spoke to and how investigators were able to determine who had worked on Cain’s properties.
Cain declined to be interviewed by the investigators, according to Street’s letter. While the inspector general has the power to force people to submit to interviews, the tactic is rarely, if ever, used because information gleaned from compelled interviews cannot be used in a criminal prosecution against the person interviewed.
The inspector general’s report says that “a number of Angola employees” reported working on one or more of Cain’s homes, and adds that “these employees indicated that they were not forced or pressured to do the work.”
It also says the employees took leave to do the work, and that they told investigators “they were compensated by Cain for the work performed.” The report does not make clear whether anyone provided proof they were paid.
Cain told The Advocate last month that he gave LeBlanc, the corrections secretary, copies of three $3,000 checks that he wrote from a personal account to pay three correctional employees for work performed on the Broadmoor home. But a Corrections Department spokeswoman has declined to provide copies to the newspaper, saying the department is not the custodian of Cain’s personal records.
The IG’s report also notes that the head of the maintenance department at Angola — whom it does not name but which records show is Tim Byrd — agreed to take a polygraph test, which indicated that he was telling the truth when he said he had not allowed subordinates to work on Cain’s properties while on the state’s clock. Byrd has not responded to messages left by The Advocate.
Street said he could not get into the details of the state’s investigation; for instance, he declined to discuss how many employees were interviewed and how investigators determined which people had worked on Cain’s homes.
“I am satisfied that we thoroughly looked at these allegations, and that there was a consensus that there were not enough facts available to support a criminal case,” Street said.
Greg Phares, the former East Baton Rouge Parish sheriff who was listed in Street’s letter as one of the lead investigators on the case, said he didn’t remember talking to anyone who said they hadn’t been paid at all for work on Cain’s homes. However, he added, “it is my recollection that some were not compensated to the value of the leave time that they took.”
Phares recently left the Inspector General’s Office to take a job as a top aide to incoming East Feliciana Parish Sheriff Jeff Travis, the former chief of operations for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections and a close associate of LeBlanc.
While Cain declined to help the inspector general’s probe, the Corrections Department has a rule stating that all employees “must cooperate with all department and/or investigations or inquiries.”
Asked whether the department intends to question Cain — who remains on the correctional system’s payroll — about his outside employment of subordinates, spokeswoman Pam Laborde replied that the department has no authority over such matters.
“Assuming that there was an agreement between these employees and Warden Cain that involved compensation, the employees would have to take that up with Warden Cain directly,” she wrote. “If the employees feel that there was a policy violation in some way, then they should report it.”
State Rep. Kenny Havard, R-St. Francisville, a frequent Cain critic, said Tuesday, “Asking the Department of Corrections to investigate Burl Cain is like asking my parents to investigate me. The whole process is an embarrassment to the state.”
Follow Gordon Russell on Twitter, @gordonrussell1.
Editor’s note: This article was changed on April 6, 2016, to note that Jeff Travis is the incoming sheriff of East Felician a Parish .