Business office employee feared getting fired if he reported Nate Cain

Nate Cain (Source: APSO)

ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - A business office employee who worked under former Avoyelles Correctional Center warden Nate Cain said he feared for his job and didn't report what he saw happening illegally with the state issued p-cards.

Cain is charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 17 counts of wire fraud. He is being represented by John McLindon out of Baton Rouge. Assistant U.S Attorneys Luke Walker and David Ayo are prosecuting the case for the government. U.S. Attorney for the Western District, David Joseph, sat in court for the morning's testimony.

Mark Monroe had already been an employee at the prison when Cain became warden in late 2012. While Monroe was issued a p-card, he didn't have approving power. He went over the rules of having a p-card with the jury. Those mirrored ones we heard during other testimony: no more than $5,000 spent a day on a card, no using other people's cards, and no splitting up purchases.

Monroe also testified that, often times, the warden's wife, Tonia Bandy Cain, who also worked in the business office, would bring him receipts before properly filling out a request for purchase (RFP). Monroe also told the jury that Tonia would often approve purchases, as would Cain, but that changed in the summer of 2014 after Cain got back from a trip to Angola.

"When they went to Angola and when they came back, we were told to take his name off the approve list," said Monroe. Afterward, deputy warden Paul Gaspard approved purchases.

Monroe described watching the relationship between Tonia and Nate develop from a boyfriend and girlfriend situation to eventually husband and wife.

"They were very flirtatious with each other...he'd blow kisses at her," said Monroe.

Monroe also described his role for purchasing products for the prison and how products were contracted out for items like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, meaning they weren't purchased on personal cards.

Monroe said he remembers one particular incident with Cain where he was fearful he would lose his job. He said he was at a local party with a friend who people called "Brother." At the party, he was asked about what he did at the prison and replied that he bought items for the prison, including at one point, a pricey Yeti cooler. Cain approached him at the prison afterward.

"He was agitated," said Monroe. "He asked, 'Were you at Brother's house?' [...] He got close to me. He was poking me and said, 'Loose lips sink ships and you're not going to sink this ship." During cross examination, Monroe stayed firm in his testimony that he didn't think it was improper to be talking about what he was asked to purchase for the prison and that he didn't find it to be a security concern. Monroe also told the jury that after that incident, he became cautious around Cain.

During another part of his testimony, Monroe talked about how another employee was fired for getting into an argument with Cain and how Tonia was promoted to the business office as a result, but she wasn't qualified.

"We tried training her and gave up," he said. "We just had to pick up the slack."

Monroe said he observed Tonia and Jodie Bordelon, a friend of Tonia's who worked in the business office, go on shopping sprees. He also said he saw Nate request items.

"There was a few times he'd say he needed a few things," said Monroe.

Monroe said he also went on shopping trips with Cain. "He would grab things that weren't on the list - phone chargers, hand tools," he said. Monroe also testified that he saw items like toilet paper, dog food, and flea and tick shampoo being purchased.

"They would buy packs of it at a time," said Monroe.

Monroe also talked about gun parts he was asked to order for Cain.

"Some were ordered with my p-card," he said. "Some were with Jodie's. [...] He brought me a list of what he wanted."

Monroe described the "ranch house" that was being built on the property and said he didn't initially know that it was supposed to be a new house for the warden.

"They did several remodels (of the old house). Three. I would have thought he'd be happy with the house," said Monroe. When Monroe brought up the bid process to deputy warden Paul Gaspard, who was considered Cain's right-hand man, he said Gaspard told him, "We're not going to do it that way. We're going to do it another way."

During cross examination when Cain's attorney pointed out that the concrete foundation was done through the bid process, Monroe told the court later that it was because that cost $25,000, alluding to the fact it would be hard to place on a p-card. He also saw items being split in purchases in an effort to keep them at a certain price point when they ended up on a RFP.

Monroe said the only time he told Cain he would not do something for him was when Cain asked him to call DIRECTV and change the name on the account from Cain's to the name of the prison.

Cain's attorney pushed back during cross examination and asked Monroe why he never called a confidential 800-number to report what he saw going on.

"If Nate found out I was talking, I knew I'd lose my job," he said. "The Cains have a far reaching hand in the state."

When a public records request came into the prison, he also testified that Gaspard asked him to alter documents, but Nate never did.

A second witness to testify on Wednesday was Thomas Heptinstall, who also worked at the prison. His testimony was brief, but we learned he was the recipient of a pressure cooker that was gifted to him by the Cains after his wedding that was paid for with state money. Heptinstall gave the pressure cooker back during the investigation when he found that out.

"I wanted to know if the state bought it," he said. "I got it and gave it (to another warden)."

Heptinstall also lived on prison grounds and described buying furniture with his own money and how he never asked if it could be placed on a p-card.

After his testimony wrapped up, the court took a three hour break.