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Former warden at the Avoyelles Correctional Center, Nate Cain, walks into the federal court house in Alexandria Monday afternoon, where he faces federal wire fraud charges for using prison funds for personal purchases.

ALEXANDRIA — Three veteran employees of the state prison in Cottonport testified Tuesday that their former boss, ex-warden Nate Cain, greatly increased the prison's spending, and then expected them to lie or skirt corrections policy when these purchases — many flagged by authorities for being personal in nature — came under question. 

The three witnesses, all still employees at Raymond Laborde Correctional Center, formerly the Avoyelles Correctional Center, testified in federal court that Cain and his then-wife, Tonia Bandy, took advantage of their access to state funds by taking repeated personal shopping trips, and then expected subordinates to shield them.

Nate Cain is accused of spending thousands of dollars meant for the Cottonport prison's operations on a slew of personal purchases, including guns and accessories, high-end technology, mundane household supplies and even a new home he was trying to build quietly on prison property.

Bandy, who has reverted to her maiden name since divorcing Cain in 2017, was indicted alongside Cain, but pleaded guilty this summer to a single count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. On Wednesday, she is expected to testify against her ex-husband, who faces the conspiracy charge along with 17 other counts of wire fraud.

“When Warden (Lynn) Cooper was there, he was very frugal with the budget, RFPs were limited,” Laura Desselle, a manager in the prison's business office, testified Tuesday afternoon. "With the change (of Cain’s leadership), there were a lot of RFPs." 

Desselle explained that prison employees must fill out forms for RFPs, or requests for purchases, before buying anything with a state-issued credit card. She said that upon Cain's ascent to warden and Bandy's subsequent rise to business manager, her office started seeing many more costly receipts arrive before the request forms — a violation of corrections policy. She said she noticed Bandy, as well as Cain, often went on shopping trips that were billed to the state. 

Desselle testified that she slowly became skeptical of the way the Cains, then a couple, were running the prison's operations, but she felt she would lose her job if she spoke up.

“I knew how quickly I could be fired,” she said.

For instance, she said, Cain once asked her to increase an inmate’s compensation for prison work. But when she went to call the Department of Corrections’ headquarters to make the change in wages official — a standard practice -- it enraged Cain.

“If you don’t want to do it, you can catch the gate,” Desselle said Cain yelled at her, meaning she'd be fired.

Two other women who worked under Cain in the warden’s office testified that both Cain and Bandy used credit cards issued to other prison employees for their own purposes. Though that was against corrections policy, the women said they felt they had no choice but to follow instructions.

Angela Bordelon, a secretary in the warden's office, testified that Cain told her he would need to use her state-issued credit card to pay for furniture one day.

“When Warden Cooper was warden, I never used it,” Bordelon testified, saying she believed the card was meant to be used only in emergencies, like hurricanes. But during Cain’s tenure, she racked up thousands of dollars in purchases she said she never personally made.

Bordelon and Deborah Gauthier, another secretary, testified that they were summoned to Cain's office when Cain and Bandy became worried about the probe. Bandy told them to lie to investigators if asked, they said.

“She told us if ever we were asked if we were physically present (for the purchases), … you were,” Bordelon testified.

Cain's attorney, John McLindon, attributed the shopping trips and increased spending to Bandy. And while all three of Cain’s former subordinates agreed she played a large part in the spending, they were confident Cain did as well. 

“He went on some shopping trips, not all,” Desselle said.

Cain is the eldest son of legendary Louisiana jailer Burl Cain, who himself resigned from his longtime post as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in late 2015 after a controversy over his business dealings came to light. The younger Cain resigned months later, amid separate investigations into fraud and other alleged misconduct at his prison. Bandy, then still his wife, resigned at the same time. 

Both Cains left during a time of increased scrutiny into a culture of nepotism and cronyism at the Department of Corrections. Though the scrutiny prompted several critical probes and audits, Nate Cain and several underlings, including Bandy, were the only correctional employees to face criminal charges as a result.

Jodie Bordelon, a former subordinate and close friend of Cain and Bandy, has pleaded guilty to concealing her knowledge of the crimes committed by the former couple. Bordelon worked in the Cottonport prison business office, and her state-issued credit card was used in many of the flagged purchases. Jodie Bordelon and Angela Bordelon are not believed to be related. 

Bandy and Jodie Bordelon are both expected to testify Wednesday in the trial. The head of the Department of Corrections, Jimmy LeBlanc, is also expected to testify, possibly Wednesday. Burl Cain once described LeBlanc as his "best friend," and despite being linked to some of the corrections scandals that erupted over the last few years, LeBlanc was able to hang onto his job.

Cain has pleaded not guilty to the 18 federal charges. 

In other testimony Tuesday, prosecutors highlighted additional items they allege Nate Cain and his ex-wife bought on the state’s dime. Nicole Compton, an investigator with the Louisiana Office of the Inspector General, also said that in many of those cases, the ex-couple manipulated the system to hide their purchases.

She explained how investigators were able to trace certain gun parts and accessories, primarily firearm parts without serial numbers, to state-billed credit cards. She said Cain would then connect those parts with the piece of the rifle bought with his personal card, and put them together. 

Compton also testified how Cain and Bandy went together to the KNNS Furniture store, a store formerly owned by Jodie Bordelon’s husband, and picked out a variety of furniture, including two king mattresses, a rocking chair, a sectional and a pink child’s chair. Though the items cost thousands of dollars, the Cains broke them up into separate purchases sheets to disguise the total amount, a practice Compton said violated corrections policy. Purchases over $5,000 required further approval, which the Cains were able to avoid.

She also testified about a raft of seemingly mundane purchases the Cains charged to the state-billed credit cards, items like Keurig coffee cups, Glade plug-ins, Gain detergent, dog and cat food and pet toys.

McLindon worked to counter the state's evidence, noting that most of the items seized or observed in the Cains' house on prison property through the investigation – which was searched in 2016 after the couple had partially moved out – have remained in state custody.

"Other than the perishables, is there anything the state still does not have?” McLindon said. He also argued that purchasing furniture for the warden's house was allowed under corrections policy at that time, though the policy has since been updated to prohibit that.

In his cross-examination of Compton, McLindon also sought to explain some of the flagged purchases. For instance, he said that coolers were used around the non-air-conditioned prison to keep ice available to inmates and workers, and that some of the Beats by Dre headphones were given to the prison boxing team.

The trial is expected to continue through Thursday. 

Editors note: This story was updated to reflect the accurate name of the Louisiana Office of the Inspector General. 


Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.