At least 10 correctional employees helped renovate the private home of Burl Cain, the storied former warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, and one of them did so mostly while on the clock at his regular state job over a period of 21 days, according to a new investigative report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor's Office.
The audit, which will be made public Monday, comes a little more than a year after Cain resigned, ending a two-decade tenure at the helm of Louisiana's biggest prison. And it underscored his reputation for landing himself in ethically compromised positions.
Along with free state labor, the audit alleges that Cain used his position to help himself to a variety of benefits, including free appliances and furnishings, a refurbished set of iron gates, and free food and lodging at Angola for a handful of relatives.
Cain and others may have broken the law in several instances, auditors conclude.
Corrections Secretary Jimmy LeBlanc, Cain's longtime friend, former boss and business partner, seemed to agree with those findings, saying that Cain is "personally liable" for the costs of the food, lodging and gates. LeBlanc's response letter to the audit says the department will seek to recoup the value of those items -- nearly $20,000 -- through a civil suit, or through restitution if Cain is criminally prosecuted.
Cain declined to meet with the auditors. But in a written response to the report, Cain’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney L.J. Hymel, brushed off its allegations, saying he believes "many of the report's findings of fact and legal conclusions are in error."
Perhaps the most damaging charge in the report centers on the free labor it says Cain received for a home he owned on Joor Road in East Baton Rouge Parish near Central.
Tim Byrd, Angola’s maintenance director, worked at that home for all or part of 21 days on which his timesheets do not show him leaving the prison, nearly 60 miles away from the Cain home. The report says Cain typically supervised Byrd personally.
Two other employees also failed to sign out at times they were working on Cain’s home, but their absences were for much shorter periods of time.
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In total, the 10 employees who worked on Cain’s home said they spent all or part of 62 work days at his house. But most of them filled out leave slips, meaning the state wasn’t paying them while they were working at the warden’s house.
The former warden’s habit of using subordinates to handle private jobs for him has long been a source of controversy.
The report also notes that some of the employees interviewed by auditors said they worked on at least one or more of four other Cain properties: a house owned by his wife in the Broadmoor area of Baton Rouge, a cabin in Tennessee, a home near Jackson and a real-estate venture called The Bluffs North that Cain developed about a decade ago. But auditors were unable to determine if state taxpayers were on the hook for any of that work.
A more thorough look
The legislative audit appears to be a much more thorough look into Cain’s use of employee labor than any previous effort. Last year, for instance, the state Office of Inspector General opened a criminal investigation into similar allegations about the house on Joor Road, but that probe largely exonerated Cain.
“Based on numerous witness interviews and the examination of pertinent documents, including polygraph information, it is the consensus of all investigators involved that the … allegations are not supported by available facts,” Inspector General Stephen Street wrote in a March 22 letter to LeBlanc.
Street’s letter said the employees who worked on Cain’s home all appeared to have taken time off to do so. It added that none of them said they felt any pressure to do the work, and that all of them appeared to have been paid by Cain.
But two employees interviewed by The Advocate at the time — who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing retribution — said they each took about a week off to work on Cain’s property and did not get paid for it. They said they were never interviewed by the IG’s investigators.
In an interview Friday, Street said he stands by his letter.
"We stand behind both the thoroughness of our investigation and its conclusion that there is no viable criminal case here," he said in an interview.
The Advocate, acting on tips, attempted to interview Byrd at the time, but the maintenance director did not respond to messages from the newspaper. The audit notes that all of Byrd's emails prior to Oct. 1, 2015, were "deleted without being backed up or archived," in possible violation of state law.
The audit does not say when the deletions took place. The Advocate in December 2015 requested a host of records showing Byrd's comings and goings.
LeBlanc wrote in his response to the audit that correctional officials are "actively investigating" the deleted emails.
Byrd told the auditors that his timesheets didn’t always reflect the hours he was at the prison, but he said he always made up for any hours he missed by picking up extra shifts and work — although those are not accounted for either.
Byrd's lawyer, John McLindon, in a written response to the audit, said that Byrd filled out leave slips every time he left the prison, and that auditors never provided him with any proof that he did not do so.
McLindon also noted that the allegations had been previously investigated and that those probes "concluded that Mr. Byrd had done nothing wrong."
Cain 'not to blame'
While Cain clearly would have been the beneficiary of any state-funded labor at his private properties, it is Byrd who could find himself in trouble for failing to sign leave slips before going to work there, the audit says. Those failures to sign out could amount to malfeasance or payroll fraud, it says.
Cain's lawyer likewise said the warden is not to blame for any payroll irregularities.
Byrd "was the person who supervised and directed the employees that your office interviewed," Hymel's response says in part. "Warden Cain would not have been privy to those conversations. ... If there is an irregularity here, it would be in the neglected paperwork of each employee."
In a telephone interview, Cain defended Byrd forcefully, calling him a close personal friend and a hard worker. "Tim Byrd always puts in his hours," Cain said.
Cain did not claim to have paid Byrd for his labors, saying Byrd generally refused payment. He described Byrd's work as mostly overseeing others whom Cain said he did pay, such as a crew of painters and a group of roofers.
He said Byrd had done similar favors for other high-ranking correctional employees, including several deputy wardens. "He worked on a bunch of people's houses," Cain said.
LeBlanc included in his response to the auditors a new department policy that appears aimed at discouraging such arrangements. It says that supervisors who have subordinates do private jobs for them "are strongly encouraged to stay clear of even the appearance of impropriety, coercion or conflict of interest when the person being hired or asked to perform such tasks is someone whom the supervisor is able to approve, deny or recommend any action regarding the person's employment."
That was the case with all of the people Cain hired to work on his properties.
A spokesman for the Department of Public Safety and Corrections said Byrd remains in his job as maintenance director at Angola. Recently, he has been deployed to St. Gabriel to help repair flood damage at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women.
In addition to receiving free labor, the audit found that Cain improperly provided free food and lodging at Angola to relatives, who spent a total of 188 nights at the prison’s five guesthouses over a five-year period, free of charge. During that time, the relatives were served about 235 free meals.
Auditors estimated the food and lodging cost state taxpayers $17,474.
Free family visits
Cain’s three children were responsible for nearly all of the overnight stays, with eldest son Nate Cain — who last year resigned as warden of Avoyelles Correctional Center amid a slew of controversies — accounting for 140 of the 188 overnight stays.
The family visits did not have any noted business purpose and they often occurred over weekends and holidays, the audit said, possibly violating state laws barring “improper donations” of public money.
Through his lawyer, Cain said that most of the family visits were around Christmas and Thanksgiving, times when it's especially difficult for wardens to leave their prisons. The lawyer's response also noted that, as warden, Cain had the authority to determine who got to occupy state-owned housing at Angola.
Similarly, the audit says that Cain directed Byrd to remove two large iron gates from his house on Joor Road and bring them to Angola to be powder-coated in the prison’s fabrication shop. It says the value of the work — for which auditors said Cain paid nothing — was roughly $1,100.
Hymel, Cain's lawyer, disputed that figure, saying the cost of the materials was more like $120. Hymel also provided a copy of a $250 money order Cain sent to the prison's business office in June 2016 to cover the cost of "any incidental or outstanding expenses" Cain might have accrued during his two-decade stint running the prison.
In a letter Cain sent along with that money order, he told prison officials to call him if $250 was deemed inadequate, "so that I may rectify this matter."
The audit also questions $27,520 in items purchased for the home on Angola property where Cain lived, including washer-dryer sets, big-screen televisions and other items.
Many correctional employees, including the warden, are provided homes rent-free at the remote prison, mostly for security reasons. The audit says furnishing those homes is generally left to employees, but in Cain’s case, the state often picked up the tab.
Hymel's response says that none of the items the state purchased for Cain's use are alleged to be missing, and it notes that two Angola employees quoted in the audit — assistant warden Bruce Dodd and finance director Gayle McGee — said they were unaware "of any policy governing what can and cannot be purchased for the warden's house."
LeBlanc wrote that the purchases for Cain's home "were inappropriate and not sanctioned by any departmental policy." But he added that the items were all accounted for, and he did not suggest that Cain should be made to pay for them.
LeBlanc also provided auditors with a copy of a new policy, issued in September, that underscores that occupants of state-owned housing must provide their own furnishings and appliances.
In addition to its focus on Cain, the audit shines a light on a variety of questionable accounting practices at Angola, some of which have already received extensive media attention.
For instance, the audit highlights the misuse of money from two clubs meant to benefit prison employees: the Angola Employee Recreation Committee and the Hook and Ladder Club.
Partly on the strength of the audit, two former prison employees face charges that they stole tens of thousands of dollars from the recreation fund.
The employee who ran the Hook and Ladder Club, which benefits the prison's volunteer fire department, admitted to auditors that he spent more than $2,000 of the group's money on personal items. LeBlanc said the Hook and Ladder matter "will be referred to the appropriate authorities" when an internal investigation is complete.
The audit also says that corrections officials have never treated the revenue generated by the prison's famous rodeo, which is held in April and October, as public money. The rodeo brings in roughly $3 million a year, auditors found, and they said that money should be deposited in the state treasury.
The audit does not allege broad misuse of rodeo revenue, though it raises questions about the use of that money to buy a bus for the prison's museum, a nonprofit organization.