Longtime former prison warden Burl Cain took to the airwaves Tuesday to defend himself in a radio interview against the findings of a recent state audit that said he benefited from free state labor and other goodies — and that he might have committed malfeasance.
While taking issue with few of the audit’s specific findings during an interview on Baton Rouge’s Talk 107.3, Cain generally characterized the report, released a day earlier, as the work of nitpickers who couldn’t find a real scandal.
Cain, who resigned as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in 2016 after two decades at its helm, expressed some frustration that his accomplishments have gotten short shrift thanks to a raft of critical newspaper stories and the recent audit.
When his interviewer, guest host Leo Honeycutt, asked Cain whether he was guilty of any crimes, however small, the warden didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely not,” Cain said. “I think I should get a plaque, actually.”
The former warden said his achievements included transforming the Angola Prison Rodeo into a major money-maker and building a series of chapels with money he raised privately.
“It was being creative and thinking outside the box that got me in trouble,” Cain said. “These kinds of things discourage state employees from being entrepreneurial. … I stole nothing. I gave. … I should be rewarded rather than condemned.”
Cain’s appearance came a couple of hours after Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera, whose office published the report, appeared on the same station to speak about the highlights.
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Purpera noted that — as is typical when his office conducts an investigative audit that turns up evidence that crimes may have been committed — the findings have been passed along to the local district attorney as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Sam D’Aquilla, district attorney for the 20th Judicial District, said Tuesday that he had been briefed on the audit findings and that he plans to bring them before a grand jury, probably in early February. “We’ll let them decide what to do with it,” he said.
Walt Green, the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Purpera described many of the practices outlined in the report as “abusive” and said his auditors found a “go along to get along” culture at Angola that discourages whistleblowing.
“When the boss asks you to go work on (his) home, there’s a little pressure there,” he said. In the future, Purpera added, correctional employees who are uncomfortable with things they witness should call his office.
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In his turn at the microphone, Cain repeated what he has said before: that if his subordinates failed to sign out from Angola before turning up to work at his private home, it was probably an oversight. He added that it wasn't his job to review employees’ timesheets and that he didn’t pressure anyone to work at his house.
“I think (the auditor is) making a lot out of nothing,” he said.
Cain didn’t deny that various appliances and furnishings for the warden’s residence at Angola had been purchased with state money. But he said that a large refrigerator mentioned in the audit was actually at the Ranch House, where guests to the prison are entertained, not at the warden’s house.
And he groused that the auditors and The Advocate had both failed to point out that he personally underwrote some improvements to the place, including the installation of marble tile in the kitchen at a cost of more than $3,000.
As for auditors’ claim that Cain’s adult children made frequent use of free lodging and food at Angola — costing taxpayers more than $17,000 over a period of years, by auditors’ estimation — the former warden again scoffed.
Two of his children already had free state accommodations provided by the state correctional department, he said, and the third was eligible for free digs but declined to take them. So, he asked, what difference did it make whether they were staying at a house at Angola or elsewhere?
“Instead of turning on the water and electricity in the house they lived in, they left their state(-owned) house to come to Angola,” he said. “I cannot see how that costs anything.”
Toward the end of his appearance, Cain waxed philosophical, telling Honeycutt — who told him he might have been the best warden in the prison’s history — that perhaps he had gotten too powerful.
He reiterated that he agreed to step down only because he was told it was the only way Jimmy LeBlanc — whom Cain has described as his “best friend” — would be retained as corrections secretary.
“I was maybe a little too strong and I needed to be clipped down,” he said. “When I got that ultimatum to step down or they wouldn’t appoint Jimmy, that’s when I knew I had to leave.”
Honeycutt noted that the report suggests Cain could be guilty of one or more crimes, including malfeasance. “What if you’re indicted?” he asked.
“I won’t be,” Cain said. “Over this? I can’t imagine it.”