The state Department of Public Safety and Corrections won’t say whether Nate Cain and his wife, Tonia, are getting paid while on enforced leave.
Thus, there is no doubt in the public’s mind that the Cains continue to draw their salaries. If they weren’t, the department would shout it from the rooftops and enjoy, for once, the gratitude of taxpayers.
Instead, the silence leaves us to conclude that we might soon be paying the whole Cain clan to stay home. Patriarch Burl, who resigned under an enormous cloud as Angola warden late last year, will remain on the payroll until August, adding $134,000 to his generous retirement benefits. Now there is no telling what it will cost to maintain his son and daughter-in-law until an investigation at the Avoyelles Parish prison is concluded.
The public may be even more inclined to balk at the cost, because Nate Cain was manifestly unfit for the job when he was appointed Avoyelles warden in 2012. Just a couple of years earlier, he had participated in the savage and prolonged beating of an inmate at another prison. Only his connections could explain how he could then be promoted and entrusted with autocratic powers largely beyond public scrutiny.
And what connections they are. Burl Cain, the Big Daddy of the department, goes way back with its secretary, Jimmy LeBlanc. Nate Cain’s brother-in-law, Seth Smith, is LeBlanc’s top aide, and his brother, Marshall, is a manager at Prison Enterprises, the system’s commercial arm. Tonia Cain came under her husband’s supervision as business manager at Avoyelles.
Nate and Tonia Cain were relieved of their duties pending an internal investigation. What the probe is all about, the department isn’t saying, but it was launched after The Advocate started inquiring about how money is handled at the prison.
An internal investigation of Burl Cain a couple of months ago found that he had violated no regulations when concocting outside business deals with relatives of imprisoned murderers who basked in his favor at Angola. That conclusion was greeted with derision, especially as accounts of his antics already had caused him to quit his job, a sacrifice somewhat alleviated by department policy that allowed him to cash in unused sick and vacation time.
Burl Cain was forever looking to make an extra buck, sometimes using inmate labor, but never had anything to fear from internal investigations. No corrections department employee would dare mess with ol’ Burl.
Nate Cain has clearly inherited a knack for skating out of trouble. True, he did not go scot-free after the inmate beating at the Phelps Correctional Center in DeQuincy, where he was deputy warden — he was suspended without pay for two weeks — but his career trajectory was unaffected.
An internal investigation found that three screws, with Nate Cain’s connivance and encouragement, beat the tar out of an escaped prisoner who had voluntarily returned to DeQuincy. The prisoner’s head was bashed repeatedly in the course of an hour, leaving blood all over the place.
Corrections department policy required the improper use of force to be reported to “other authorities as appropriate” for consideration of criminal charges. But a corrections flak said that “current staff is unable to determine” whether the assault had been referred to “an outside agency for review” because “people involved in the disciplinary process are now retired.”
Utter hogwash, of course. Had the investigative report been forwarded, there would be a record of it, but none was to be found in the files of the department itself, the FBI, the sheriff or the district attorney. As for the staffers involved, they may be retired, but they didn’t fall from the face of the earth, and could presumably be reached by phone or email in a matter of minutes. Nate Cain was let off the hook, just as sure as he is still drawing his salary.
That same department flak recently averred that the advancement of Burl Cain’s family is due entirely to talent, but that must be widely regarded as hogwash, too. The public will be on the lookout for a whitewash as the latest internal investigation proceeds.
James Gill’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.