After weeks of keeping mum about the substance of criminal investigations tied to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson said Thursday that the “primary” focus of his agency’s probe centered on alleged payroll fraud by one of the prison’s longtime, high-ranking employees.
Kenneth Norris, 71, who is married to a niece of former Angola Warden Burl Cain, acknowledged Thursday he is suspected of shirking his duties as the head of Angola’s internal investigations unit despite collecting a paycheck of $92,872 a year, but he rejects those allegations.
In a curious quirk, Norris also served many years in a high-level position with the State Police; he retired more than a decade ago as a lieutenant colonel after nearly 30 years with the agency.
In the meantime, the state Inspector General’s Office said it is investigating additional undisclosed allegations surrounding Cain, who abruptly announced his resignation last month after an Advocate investigation reported he had business dealings with men closely tied to inmates. The inspector general and State Police have said they are collaborating in their investigations.
Edmonson’s revelation Thursday is a new bit of fallout from Cain’s unexpected retirement, which came amid two noncriminal probes into his actions. Days after The Advocate — which had received tips about Norris’ work habits — filed a public-records request Dec. 14 for Norris’ personnel records, including timesheets, Norris announced he would retire, citing his ailing health.
The two matters are presumably linked because Cain was the boss of Angola. Norris previously said he was not required to sign in or out of Angola’s gates, despite its status as a maximum-security prison.
Edmonson announced at a Dec. 18 joint news conference with the Inspector General’s Office and Department of Public Safety and Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc — a longtime friend and associate of Cain’s who was reappointed to his post this week by Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards — that part of his investigators’ probes centered on Angola timesheets.
“We’ve been looking at allegations that came from Angola related to Kenny Norris. We’ve interviewed quite a few people. That’s been the primary emphasis of our investigation,” Edmonson said Thursday.
But Edmonson added that he does not know the current status of the investigation nor whether Norris will face charges. He said representatives from the State Police plan to be part of a conference requested by LeBlanc to discuss updates on the probes.
Greg Phares, the inspector general’s chief investigator, said he sees no need to duplicate State Police’s efforts on Norris, which he said were underway before the Dec. 18 news conference. “We accept their conclusions. And we continue to work together on other matters involving allegations against Warden Cain,” Phares said.
Norris said he “sometimes” worked from home instead of driving three hours from his primary residence in Pitkin to Angola, but when asked how many years he’d worked from home, he replied, “I don’t know, ma’am. I have no idea.” He previously told The Advocate that he sometimes stayed in housing on Angola’s grounds.
“If there’s a discrepancy” about his timesheets, Norris said, “there’s no intent there at all. I’m smarter than that.”
Corrections Department spokeswoman Pam Laborde declined in an email to comment on the allegations about Norris, saying, “It would be inappropriate for me to comment on any ongoing investigation.”
The department has denied The Advocate’s public-records requests for copies of Norris’ employment records and an internal review into Cain, citing an exemption of the law that bars the release of documents tied to law enforcement investigations.
Regarding the denials, Laborde said in an email Thursday: “The department’s intention has always been to release the results of our review. As (corrections attorney Susan Griffin) explained her response, we cannot release the information at this time. That remains the case. ... When we are able to release additional information, we will.”
Norris has said he had lung and heart surgeries and his health concerns, not the probes, prompted his decision to retire.
As for the investigation, he said, “As far as I know, I’m clear.”
Follow Maya Lau on Twitter, @mayalau.