Reeves’ new pick for MDOC commissioner has controversial past

3 Louisiana agencies investigated Burl Cain for misspending, possible violations of law, but no criminal charges came

Reeves’ new pick for MDOC commissioner has controversial past

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - At the end of Burl Cain’s corrections career in Louisiana, three different investigations by state agencies aimed to find out if the man once in charge of the state’s largest prison had misspent taxpayer money and broken the law.

Those investigations in Louisiana came after months of dogged reporting from Baton Rouge-based newspaper The Advocate, which discovered that Cain had spent millions to buy acreage in a neighboring parish and sell it to developers with ties to inmates in his own facility.

By the time Cain left his job on Jan. 1, 2016, the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections, the Inspector General, and the Louisiana Legislative Auditor had all launched probes to determine whether he had violated the law.

While none of the agencies’ cases yielded criminal charges, the track record of Cain’s last few years casts doubt by some on his new, pending role: Commissioner of the Mississippi Department of Corrections.

Gov. Tate Reeves announced the appointment Wednesday, and Cain told reporters that the claims and investigations from his time as warden of the Louisiana State Penitentiary were unfounded, though he did not comment on specifics.

Cain told 3 On Your Side in an exclusive interview that he left Angola because he had intentions of running for governor of Louisiana and wanted to start a nonprofit seminary for prisoners, a different reason than he gave reporters four years ago, when he said a series of investigative reports from The Advocate caused his departure.

“Rather than more discredit come out and more embarrassment to the department, and even the new administration, it’s just time for me to go,” Cain told WAFB in December 2015.

Cain served as warden at Angola from 1995 to 2016. During that time, The Advocate found Cain spent more than $2 million on roughly 150 acres of land in West Feliciana Parish, eventually hoping to turn it into estates.

He then sold interests in the properties, totaling more than $1 million, to prominent developers with close ties to state inmates, according to the newspaper.

In the weeks following his resignation, Cain blamed the press for what happened.

“You have the power to really wreck people’s lives. And that’s really what happened to mine," Cain said in March 2016. "I lost my job, I lost everything. I had to move my house, move away from Angola, and I lost a job that I really loved to do.”

More than a year after Cain resigned, a Louisiana state audit detailed four separate possible violations of state law and misuse of taxpayer dollars directly tied to the former warden.

In one instance, ten employees of Angola spent months renovating Cain’s Baton Rouge home, some while being paid by the state.

The audit also found 188 instances over five years where members of Cain’s immediate and extended family spent the night in state-owned houses at Angola and ate at least 235 meals, all on the taxpayer’s dime.

The audit stated that lodging and meals to Cain’s family “without a public purpose represent an improper donation of public funds," estimating it cost taxpayers $17,474.

The most egregious use of those tax dollars came when investigators found that another $27,520 had been used to purchase four TVs, washers and dryers, and other appliances for the warden’s home at Angola.

The audit said because the Louisiana Department of Corrections didn’t authorize the purchases with public funds, they appeared to be for Cain’s personal benefit.

Days after the audit came out, Cain defended himself to his critics.

“I’m not a thief, and I wouldn’t knowingly take something that was not mine and knowingly break a rule. I have a stellar career, a good reputation, and this is not -- what he’s accusing me of, I haven’t done," Cain said in January 2017.

He then admitted that what the audit showed was true.

“I didn’t feel like it was wrong," Cain said.

Cain also said his philanthropic efforts for Angola should be weighed with the audit’s findings as well.

“I raised 3 million dollars from the private sector in donations to save the taxpayers to build seven churches and build an education building. I don’t know of any state employee or anyone that’s raised that much private money for the state and gave it to the state," Cain said, "I think that should count, too, in reflecting on my integrity and my intentions to do well for the state.”

While no criminal charges came from that 2017 Louisiana Legislative Audit either, it’s important to note that audits that reveal the misspending or misappropriation of tax dollars don’t always carry criminal violations.

Still, Cain insisted Wednesday that what he has to do now, if the Mississippi Senate confirms him in the coming weeks to lead the state’s troubled prison system, is “avoid the hint of impropriety.”

Reeves said leaders did extensive research on Cain’s past before considering him for the appointment.

“The search committee was aware of the allegations,” Reeves said. “I was personally aware of the allegations. It seems like once the politics were removed, the accusations were basically dropped.”

Copyright 2020 WLBT. All rights reserved.