Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Dakota. Show all posts

14 January 2016

The Chinese Are Coming!


A while back I wrote a column called "A Little Light Corruption"  about how South Dakota looks like Mayberry and acts like Goodfellas.  The body count is still only at seven (thank God), but the money is getting weirder by the minute.
For one thing, 35 Chinese investors are suing the State of South Dakota for $18,550,000, claiming they got ripped off in the EB-5 (green cards for a $500,000 investment) program.

And Joop Bollen (a Dutch foreign national), who somehow was allowed by our own then-Governor Mike Rounds (currently our US Senator) and our current Attorney General Marty Jackley, to privatize EB-5 and turn it over to himself via his own corporation (SDRC, Inc.) is now suing the State for defamation of character.

And our AG, instead of issuing warrants, is asking the court to freeze Joop's assets which are, in one bank account, around a million dollars.
NOTE:  Remember, originally, AG Jackley determined that the only "misappropriated" funds from EB-5 was the $500,000 that Richard Benda supposedly stole before supposedly killing himself in a field.  Apparently things have changed.  Although Marty Jackley is keeping as quiet as a tomb.
Joop Bollen and then-Governor,
current SD Senator, Mike Rounds
SECOND NOTE:  Mr. Bollen has, throughout, been treated with kid gloves.  He's never even been subpoenaed.  But the State of South Dakota has finally sued his corporation, SDRC, Inc... for documents.  Like, before they're shredded. 
THIRD NOTE:  Despite the Chinese investor losses, and Mr. Bollen's interesting bank account, South Dakota is still officially missing $120 million dollars in EB-5 fees and investments.  Where did it go?  Well, the state deficit in the last year of Mike Rounds' governorship was $120 million, so it didn't go there...  
Repeat after me:  "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

Okay, on to GEAR UP!  Because we can't have just one major scandal about disappearing federal grant dollars in our tiny state.



A whole lot of  money (almost $3.5 million in 2011) went to a whole lot of people, except that almost none of it went to what the purpose of the grant was:  to give scholarships and education to Native Americans.  In fact, while 50-75% of all GEAR UP funds were supposed to be spent on scholarships according to the federal grant requirements, South Dakota requested (and apparently got) a waiver to spend NO money on scholarships, but to spend 100 percent of the grant on college preparedness and college readiness. And of course the best way to prepare Native American students for college was to hire endless consultants and directors of various sub-corporations.  (Angela Kennecke investigation)  The result is, $14 million dollars spent (somewhere), and 20 people went to college.   As my blogger friend Cory says, wouldn't it have been cheaper just to give the kids scholarships?  (dakotafreepress.com/2015/12/31/)


Some of you may remember from my last post on this that the Westerhuis' cell phones were cancelled the day after the arson / murder / suicides, and all the records were wiped, including who made a call and left a voice mail about 20 minutes before the fire.  As it turns out, the Westerhuis cell phones were through the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative (MCEC, the hub corporation for GEAR UP money, and for which the deceased Westerhuises worked). And it was MCEC that cancelled the phones and had the records wiped.  No explanation why they would do this before the ashes had even cooled on the ground...

And you may also remember that there was a missing safe, which apparently had legs like a dog and got up and trotted off because it hasn't been found yet.

From the "It can't get any weirder than this" files:

Governor Dugaard and Secretary of Education Melody Schopp
at the Interview
The US Department of Education tells KELOLAND News that in 2014, the South Dakota GEAR UP State grant file was destroyed and none of the documents are available.  (More Angela Kennecke investigation)

When KELO-TV investigative reporter Angela Kennecke asked for an interview with Secretary of Education Melody Schopp about GEAR UP and MCEC, she was told by the governor's office that she could only talk to Schopp with Governor Dugaard present. (see photo to the right)  Still trying to figure out whose hand needed holding...

And the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative had a forensic audit of their books, and presented it to a public meeting of the MCEC board. Said the auditors:  “We did not have access to financial records or other information from any other business or individuals.”  (For example, any of the multiple organizations that the deceased Mr. Westerhuis set up.)  And neither MCEC board members, nor the public, nor the media were allowed to ask any questions or even speak at the public meeting.  (http://dakotafreepress.com/?s=audit)

Just another day in South Dakota, where federal grant money can disappear like magic.

Did I mention that 4 in every 10 dollars in South Dakota revenue come from the federal government? (10 States most dependent on Federal Government)

Repeat after me:  "Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn't." Author Neil Gaiman.

05 November 2015

Halloween Ain't Over By A Long Shot


I know, Halloween is over, but there are some things that just have to be mopped up.
First up, "verd√Ętre". In the King James Version, Revelations 6:8 reads: "And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him. And power was given unto them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with sword, and with hunger, and with death, and with the beasts of the earth." But, believe it or not, it gets creepier in the French SG21 translation, where that pale horse is "verd√Ętre", or "greenish." Just like pus. Or decay. Or the Frankenstein's monster, which only adds to the oomph, don't you think?

Except that the Frankenstein's monster was actually yellow in the original. But then, 60% of all newborns get jaundice.

Secondly, thanks to John Sutherland, who in his collection of literary questions, "Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet?" raises the best question of all, "Why isn't everyone a vampire?" I'm going to quote Mr. Sutherland here (pp. 239-240):
"Let us assume that each vampire infects one victim a year, and that this victim dies during the course of the year to become, in turn, a vampire. Since they are immortal, each vampire will form the centre of an annually expanding circle, each of which will become the centre of his or her own circle. The circle will widen at the rate of 2(n-1). In year one (say, 1500) there is one new vampire, in 1501, two, in 1502, 4; in 1503, 8; and so, by the simple process of exponential increase, there will be 1,204 new vampires in 1510. And, since they never die, the numbers are swollen cumulatively. Within thirty-one years the vampire population will have reached 2 billion. By 1897, the presumable date of Stoker's novel, the numbers are incalculably vast. In fact, so vast that they will probably have collapsed to nil. Long since everyone will have been vampirized; there will be no more food-supply... Dracula and his kind will die out. And with them, the human race."
Going out, we presume, with a whimper of hunger…

BTW, this idea works perfectly with werewolves, too. After all, if you get scratched/bitten by a werewolf, you become a werewolf, so we should all be werewolves by now, right? And, on top of that, the children of werewolves become werewolves, making (as a friend of mine pointed out) werewolves the original anchor babies!

Meanwhile, back in SD, the dog and pony show continues.

Attorney General Marty Jackley (remember him?) held a press conference on Tuesday, November 3, 2015, at 1:00 p.m., at the Community Center adjacent to the Platte City Hall building, Platte, S.D, to discuss the investigation in the deaths of the Westerhuis family.
For the saga to date about the Westerhuises, the federal GEAR UP monies, and a variety of missing funds, see my last SleuthSayers post, "A Little Light Corruption".
I had already told everyone who expected a great deal of detail, substance, even some actual news, that they should meet outside, later, for a special preview of "Bambi Goes Hunting With an Uzi." Jackley did not disappoint. He announced that it was obvious that Mr. Westerhuis - after hearing that the GEAR UP! grant was being cancelled - shot and killed his wife and his four children, poured [unidentified] accelerant all over the house and then shot himself. Period. This all happened some time around 3 A.M. Apparently the Westerhuises had surveillance cameras, but they recorded nothing, and neither of the two (!) security systems were tripped.

Two interesting and very understated points:
  1. Someone called Nicole Westerhuis' cell phone from the Westerhuis landline, leaving a voice message, but the message can't be retrieved because the account was cancelled. (Obvious questions:  When were the accounts cancelled?  Who cancelled them?)
  2. The Westerhuis safe is missing. Mr. Jackley asked that if anyone knew anything about the whereabouts of the safe to please call him.  
Please feel free to comment wildly. I certainly have.

Meanwhile, a new bit of crazy has arrived in time for Halloween. Now, this is a two-parter:

An original, handmade South Dakota flag dating back to Deadwood’s Old West days that went missing from former Secretary of State Jason Gant’s office in January has been returned to its home in the state Capitol. Garrett Devries, former employee of former South Dakota Secretary of State Jason Gant, former intern of our own Senator John Thune, and "Republican operative," picked it up and took it with him to Washington because "it was cool." (I suppose he never heard that theft was wrong...) He's being charged with a misdemeanor, and is working on a plea deal. (Funny how we can spend money and manpower tracking down a flag, but not the $147 million lost to the EB-5 program...)
Jason Gant
Former Secretary of State Jason Gant,
looking a little spooked for Halloween.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gant is accused of being "$43,000 short of what the in-house books said, losing three iPad Minis out of thirty purchased for his over-hyped military voting program, misappropriating tens of thousands of federal Help America Vote Act dollars, failing his statutory duty to print a legislative manual, and letting an employee walk off with a historic state flag." (See above)
(http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/10/30/gant-admits-but-minimizes-mistakes-krebs-needs-democratic-backup-in-pierre/ - once again, thank you to Cory Heidelberger!)
Mr. Gant has admitted that he made "mistakes", but also claims that "his people were just too busy with other projects to get to reconciling the bank accounts... or turn in invoices relating to the federal HAVA money." As for the iPads, well, crap happens.

NOTE:  I love South Dakota: one guy (co-director for Leadership South Dakota) can't remember nine $1000 payments for his consulting services, and another guy (a former Secretary of State) misplaces iPads all over the place and loses an historical, hand-made state flag, not to mention a bunch of bucks...

And did you know it costs $18,518.51 per overseas soldier to get them to vote? To quote from our own Argus Leader:
The Secretary of State's office under former secretary Jason Gant used more than $500,000 in federal grant money to help 27 active military members vote last year... "I know that 27 doesn't sound like a wonderful number, but it was a program that 27 people took advantage of," Gant said.... [And he] spent $79,000 on a public relations and marketing firm to publicize the program on a trip to Germany. "The beauty of the system is that if in a few years there were thousands of South Dakotans overseas, they could be using it," said Gant.
Honey, there's only 853,000 people in the entire state - how many thousands are heading overseas? Is this something we should be worried about? Aware of? Prepared for? Pack our bags?

Here’re a few hints, Mr. Gant:
(1) Start smartening up your explanations/excuses/reasons/justifications.
(2) Watch the Maltese Falcon and think about the character of Wilmer, the fall guy.
(3) Don't go hunting alone.
(4) Keep your doors locked at night.  Maybe get a dog.

22 October 2015

A Little Light Corruption


By gum, we folks in South Dakota really know how to keep things quiet.  Until someone dies, and then the whole thing comes boiling out.  Mayberry it isn't.
2013-2014

October 20, 2013 - Richard Benda was found dead from a shotgun wound to the stomach in a field in October.  The SD Attorney General, Marty Jackley, instantly ruled it a suicide.  Came out shortly thereafter that Benda had, apparently, embezzled pots of money from the EB-5 program, an immigration program set up by George H.W. Bush in 1990 that grants Visas to foreign investors for a minimum $500,000.00 investment. Quick money for the state, quick green card, and everything's hunky-dory.

Now Richard Benda was the former commissioner of then Governor Mike Rounds' Office of Economic Development. (Rounds is currently one of our two State Senators, the other being John Thune.)  He was also the one-time financial monitor of the Northern Beef Packers of Aberdeen, a $100 million slaughterhouse, funded largely by Asian EB-5 investors, which later was auctioned off in December, 2013 for $4.8 million in cash and $39.5 million in the cancellation of what's been called a “somewhat murky debt." Benda was soon accused of stealing $500,000 and "amending" grant proposals to give Northern Beef Packers more money. AG Jackley has refused to release the autopsy of Mr. Benda ("out of respect for the family"); and in July of 2014, after 9 months of increasing stink, Jackley waved a document in front of news cameras that he claimed were the indictments for Aggravated Theft and Aggravated Grand Theft by Deception that were about to be served on Benda right before he killed himself/was murdered. (Take your pick; we all have.)

Like any good crime fiction writer, I looked at the documents and recognized the simple fact that, without a signature or notarization, these documents could have been typed up at any time, say the weekend before the Monday July news conference, when the crap was piling too deep to ignore any more.  And, as more and more people demanded answers, the SD legislative committee declared in December of 2014 that Richard Benda was solely responsible for the $500,000 embezzlement and probably the loss of millions of dollars (last report, $140 million, but who's counting), but no one knows where that money went, and they were not going to investigate further.  They were especially not going to investigate a man named Joop Bollen, a Dutch foreign national who ran the EB-5 program for Governor Rounds and later set up his own private corporation, SDRC, which took over administration of the EB-5 program.  Mr. Bollen was asked some questions by the SD legislative committee, but was allowed to answer them in writing, and never had to appear.  He has never been charged with anything.  Anything at all...

But wait, there's more!  I've been on vacation, and while I was gone, the Feds, yes, the Feds! have decided that South Dakota is too corrupt to use EB-5 funds, and we are barred, yes, BARRED, from every getting EB-5 money again.  Plus, they're suing South Dakota:
http://dakotafreepress.com/2015/10/18/feds-say-south-dakota-too-corrupt-to-use-eb-5/
http://www.mitchellrepublic.com/news/state/3863619-feds-aim-kick-sd-out-eb-5-program-state-sues-bollens-records
And, at last, the State of South Dakota is going to sue Mr. Bollen.  Like there's any money left...

Meanwhile, there's a whole new bit of nasty coming out from under the rocks:

2015

Late at night on September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It wasn't until a few days later that it turned out that all six had been shot to death.  SD Attorney General Marty Jackley declared it a murder/suicide/arson, perpetrated by Scott Westerhuis.  The only question was why.  Now, I'm writing this in early October, and this is only going to get messier.

Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of MCEC, the Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which is, among other things, a hub for distributing federal grand monies to other non-profit organizations.  One of these was South Dakota Gear Up, whose website was taken down after all the employees were fired...  Well, here's the deal, Gear Up received a $4.3 million dollar contract to help get Native American kids into college. On September 16, 2015, Department of Education terminated the contract after an audit declared bad reporting, bad accounting, and general bad books. On September 17, the Westerhuis family tragedy occurred.  On September 25, State Education Secretary Melody Schopp fired every surviving employee of Gear Up, and shut down the Gear Up website.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.
screen cap from Google Maps,
2015.09.22.

But wait, there's more! The Westerhuis family lived on a $1.3 million rural Platte property that included a 7,600 square foot house, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, weight-lifting area, and computers, and a loft with a meeting room, rooms for guests, and a kitchen.  This was on an official combined MCEC salary of $130,549.82.

But wait, there's more! Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education:




Some are inactive, but Rock Ranch Consulting, which has no easily identifiable online presence, may refer to the Westerhuises’ rock-decorated rural home, torched on September 17. Rock Ranch Consulting was the source of incorporation funds for “American Indian Institute For Innovation and Excellance,” [sic], whose 2014 Form 990 shows $2.7 million in revenue and $3.0 million in expenses, including $1.58 million in salaries and wages, $311K in pension and benefits, and $270K in travel, conferences, and meetings. Apparently very little education of Native Americans actually happened. And there's Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium (OSEC), formed in 2011 and still in good standing, whose 2013 Form 990, completed by Nicole Westerhuis on November 6, 2014, shows $965K in revenue and $935K in expenses. Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.
(Thanks to Corey Allen Heidelberger for his incomparable fact-finding on Dakota Free Press: http://dakotafreepress.com/tag/mid-central-educational-cooperative/ )

But wait, there's more! We are just now cracking (again, thanks, Corey!) the list of high-level education professionals who received significant monthly and annual payments ($150,000+ in some cases) for consulting and administration from Gear Up and/or MCEC, and are scrambling to cover their assets, er, what they did and when and why.  My two favorites:

  1. Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, received his money from the MCEC for the Teaching American History federal grant; what makes this especially sweet is that the South Dakota Board of Education has made teaching early American history optional in South Dakota.  
  2. Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who simply couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television:  http://www.keloland.com/newsdetail.cfm/melmer-answers-questions-about-gear-up-work/?id=185508   You really can't make this stuff up.  (I don't know about you but I've never forgotten a single thousand dollar check I've ever gotten in my life, much less nine of them...)
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard
Governor Dugaard
Now I could go on into a tirade about South Dakota mismanagement of federal grant monies, i.e., the political cronies slurping on the federal gravy train.  (Meanwhile our distinguished Governor Dugaard refuses to expand Medicaid coverage because the feds might not have the money:  note to Gov - if so, it's because your pals have siphoned it all off to build large gyms.) Or I could discuss the shameful use of Native Americans to get grant monies.  I have, I will, and I will again.

I will go off, for a moment, again, on the fact that South Dakota has been ranked #2 for government corruption.  (New Jersey, eat your heart out!)  How can this be? Simple:  South Dakota is a one-party state:  the Governor is Republican, the GOP has a super-majority in the legislature, the districts are gerrymandered so that Republicans consistently keep their super-majority (this is especially farcical when you see the little corridor linking the entire Rosebud Reservation, votes 90% Democratic, to staunch Republican Pennington County, a/k/a Rapid City).  It helps that Pierre, our capital, is one of the few US state capitals which is not on a major interstate - it's literally out in the middle of nowhere - and there is no major news media located there.  This helps ensure that whatever happens in Pierre, stays in Pierre.

Until someone dies.  And the death toll is starting to rise.

Meanwhile, why does hell always break loose in autumn?  

I'll keep you posted.