Opening arguments wrap, first witnesses called in Nate Cain trial

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ALEXANDRIA, La. (KALB) - Opening arguments have wrapped and the first witnesses have been called at the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana in Alexandria for the trial of Nate Cain, the former warden of the Avoyelles Correctional Center.

Nate Cain arrives to the federal courthouse in Alexandria for his trial on March 11, 2019. (Source: KALB)

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.

Both Cain and his now ex-wife, Tonia, were charged in the case. Tonia pleaded guilty in July to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. As a result, the wire fraud charges were dropped. She will be sentenced on October 9. She faces 20 years in prison or a $250,000 fine or both.

Walker presented opening arguments for the government.

"This is a case about the abuse of power," Walker told the jury. "Nathan Cain abused the power he was taking funds to be used at the prison and using them for himself."

Walker told the jury that Cain became warden in 2012 and that, when he did, "things began to change for the worse."

Walker explained that some staff working at the prison were given a p-card to use for official purchases. While Cain did not have one, Tonia did, and soon after he started dating Tonia, she got moved to the business office. The two eventually married.

In order to make a purchase at the prison using a p-card, you have to get approval. Tonia was second in line for the approval process.

The rules of having a p-card include that you can't spend more than $5,000 at once, you can't split transactions, you can't use another person's p-card, and you can't use them for personal purchases.

If an item purchased costs more than $1,000, it's tagged as prison property for tracking.

"She didn't know anything about the business office," said Walker of Tonia Cain.

Nate Cain didn't have his own p-card, but Walker said, "It didn't matter because he used other people's p-cards."

The government said the evidence would show that the Cains used taxpayer money to buy personal purchases including guns, gun parts, toilet paper, pet food, a pink princess chair, and even building supplies for a house they were building on the property.

Walker said lists of mixed prison and personal purchases were given to Tonia and her best friend, Jodie Bordelon, who also worked at the prison. Both have pleaded guilty for their roles and are awaiting sentencing.

McLindon compared the accusations against his client to those of "paycheck journalism" and the "National Enquirer."

"At least two of the government's key witnesses are being compensated for their stories - with freedom," he told the jury.

McLindon said Tonia Cain used her position to marry Nate as a "power move" for herself and her best friend, Bordelon.

"They were thick as thieves. They admit it, they were thieves," he said.

McLindon said Cain was too busy being warden to make purchases or approve them. He also said the couple's finances remained separate after they married.

"He didn't know if it was a credit, debit or p-card," McLindon said of Cain's knowledge of the purchases.

McLindon believes that Tonia dropped Nate's name into the equation after she got caught and then asked him for a divorce immediately after. He also disputes the government's claims about a house that was being built on the prison property and any bid laws they may have violated.

"If they violated bid laws, that's not a crime...that's between the warden and the DOC," said McLindon.

He asked the jury to see the case for what it really is.

"Please don't buy this story," said McLindon.

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