ALEXANDRIA — Beats by Dre headphones. Blu-Ray disc players. Yeti coolers. Flat screen TVs. Coleman sleeping bags. Bose speakers. Keurig coffee machine and hundreds of cups. Furniture. Automobile tires. Guns and firearm parts. 

All of them were purchased by former Avoyelles Correctional Center warden Nate Cain with state credit cards billed to taxpayers, according to Nicole Compton, an investigator with the Louisiana Office of Inspector General. They were among the "many, many, many" items Compton found at Cain's home during a 2016 raid, she testified Monday. 

"This is a case about the abuse of power and the violation of trust," said Luke Walker, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Western District of Louisiana. "This is the Department of Corrections’ money — this is taxpayer money he was spending."

Nate Cain is facing federal charges for spending thousands of dollars that were meant for the Cottonport prison he ran instead on a wide range of personal items, like guns, high-end technology, and even a new house he was trying to build quietly on prison property. Cain is the son of legendary Louisiana jailer Burl Cain, who himself resigned from his longtime post as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola after a controversy over his business dealings erupted. The younger Cain also resigned months later, amid separate investigations fraud and other misconduct at his prison. 

Both Cains left the Department of Corrections at a time of heavy scrutiny into the agency's culture of nepotism and cronyism. Though there were a number of critical probes and audits, Nate Cain and several underlings — including his then-wife — were the only correctional employees to face criminal charges as a result. Cain is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 17 counts of wire fraud. 

His trial began Monday morning with jury selection and could last through the end of the week. 

Prosecutors named about 20 witnesses they plan to call, including Tonia Bandy, Cain's ex-wife, and Jodie Bordelon, a former subordinate at the prison, who have both already pleaded guilty to crimes related to the case. They also expect to call Department of Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, whom Burl Cain once described as his "best friend," to the stand. LeBlanc was singed in the corrections scandals but ultimately hung onto his job.

Nate Cain's attorney, John McLindon, painted jurors a different picture of how the purchases were made, pointing the finger at Bandy, whom Cain promoted to business manager of the prison after the two began dating. Bandy, who has reverted to using her maiden name after divorcing Cain in 2017, was initially charged alongside Cain in the case, but in July she pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She has not been sentenced.

“Nate Cain was never, ever an approver; he’s not even a card-holder,” McLindon said Monday afternoon, noting that Bandy, by contrast, was able to approve prison purchases and held a state-issued credit card for the prison. He called her relationship with Cain a "power move," noting that she filed for divorce soon after they ran into trouble. 

He also noted that Bordelon, whom he described as a close friend of Bandy's, pleaded guilty on Friday to concealing a felony from authorities. Bordelon also held a state-issued credit card, which was used for many of the personal purchases in question. Bordelon resigned Monday morning from her clerical position at the Cottonport prison, recently renamed Raymond Laborde Correctional Center, according to Department of Corrections spokesman Ken Pastorick.

“Two of the government’s key witnesses are being compensated," McLindon said. "But they’re not being compensated with money, they’re being compensated with freedom. You would have reason to doubt both of their stories.”

McLindon also called the "ranch house," a home for Cain that Department of Corrections officials have said was not authorized for construction, a "red herring" in the case. He noted that it was built so close to the front of the prison that it was clear Cain, who claimed it was to be some sort of operations center for the prison rather than a personal residence, wasn't trying to hide it. 

However, prosecutors showed two separate designs for the house, one showing bedrooms, a garage and a family room, but a later plan changed those descriptions to conference rooms, offices and classrooms. They showed photos of the garage door entrance boarded up, after an alleged change in plans, which they note was clear also in the new name for the building, later referred to as the Special Operations Command Center.

Cain in 2016 became a poster boy of sorts for the scandals that rocked the Department of Corrections. He had enviable connections, and he had been repeatedly promoted, despite questions about his judgment. His star rose even though he had been disciplined in his prior post for looking on as two subordinates savagely beat an escaped inmate.

In addition to the fraud case, Nate Cain faces a separate charge in state court of obstruction of justice, which stems from a 2016 investigation by state corrections officials that found the former warden undermined a probe into a rape allegation at his prison. The allegations involved a sexual relationship between an inmate and a corrections officer at the lockup, which is considered rape under federal law, even when both parties consent.

Avoyelles Parish District Attorney Charles Riddle said both of those cases have been on hold while the federal court proceedings play out. 

The internal corrections probe never determined with certainty whether the corrections officer actually engaged in sexual acts with the inmate, but found that Cain and some of his employees interfered. A former major, Randon Harrington, who was indicted with Cain in the probe, was accused of coercing the inmate to drop his allegations, by threatening to send him to Camp J at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, a notorious solitary confinement unit that shuttered last year due to worsening conditions. 

Cain, meanwhile, cut short a polygraph exam being administered to the officer accused in the rape. He also sent away a seasoned rape investigator from Angola who had been assigned to help in the probe.


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.