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Nate Cain

Now that he’s admitted to stealing taxpayer money for his personal use, former Louisiana warden Nate Cain seems likely to spend some time on the other side of the prison bars.

Cain’s comeuppance was a long time in coming — the result of scrutiny by the media, state auditors and prosecutors that exposed official wrongdoing by Cain and his former wife, Tonia Bandy.

But it shouldn’t have taken embarrassing newspaper coverage, the Louisiana Inspector General, a U.S. attorney and an area district attorney to uncover the shocking corruption that prompted guilty pleas from both Cain and Bandy.

That wrongdoing should have quickly become obvious to top officials at the Louisiana Department of Corrections, including its secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc. That Cain and his former wife were able to get away with their thievery for so long suggests that LeBlanc and his crew were either oblivious to the criminal activity – or perhaps intent on looking the other way.

Cain did not, after all, make a secret of his kleptocratic management style. Federal prosecutors believe he secured building supplies on the government dime to put up a new home for himself on the grounds of the Cottonport prison he was supposed to be managing. He audaciously placed his new digs near the prison entrance, perhaps signaling that he felt free to act with impunity, free from the scrutiny of his superiors.    

Recently, Cain pled guilty in federal court to two counts of wire fraud related to his use of taxpayer money to buy guns for himself. Prosecutors pointed to a much wider shopping spree, with personal purchases by Cain and Bandy ranging from furniture to pet food and involving some $150,000 in state government money. Bandy had pled guilty to wire fraud in connection with the case and had agreed to testify against her former husband before he took his own plea deal. Two other cases involving Cain and Bandy are pending in the Avoyelles Parish District Court.

Nate Cain’s father is Burl Cain, who once described LeBlanc as his best friend. The elder Cain, longtime warden at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola, was forced out of his job in 2015 amid revelations that he had business dealings with the stepfather of an inmate under his supervision.

LeBlanc was appointed to run the prison system by Gov. Bobby Jindal, whose successor, John Bel Edwards, has kept him in place. Edwards seems unwilling to give LeBlanc the boot, though the secretary has presided over a culture of nepotism and double-dealing. Maybe LeBlanc's salutary role in advancing Edwards' criminal justice reform legislation was deemed reason enough to keep him on.     

We can’t say if LeBlanc is the best friend that the disgraced Burl Cain once claimed him to be. But LeBlanc hasn’t been a friend to Louisiana’s taxpayers, who’ve had reason to wonder if they're getting fleeced by the good old boy network under LeBlanc's command.

If this isn’t an issue in this year’s gubernatorial election, it should be.