Showing posts with label embezzlement. Show all posts
Showing posts with label embezzlement. Show all posts

31 January 2019

What We're Best at Being Bad At


by Eve Fisher

Ah, the nuances of our various United States.  And, thanks to the Internet, we have more memes and statistics and sites than ever before to show everyone what we're good - and bad - and very VERY bad at.

According to the Reader's Digest, South Dakota is Best at Retirement — Everyone’s golden years are more, well, golden in South Dakota, where a combination of low taxes and happy residents makes it the best state for retirement according to Bankrate. And we're Worst at Child Mortality Rate — Unfortunately, the younger generation in the Mount Rushmore state isn’t faring so well. With 47 teen and child deaths per 100,000 people every year, it’s leading the nation in child mortality.  So - give birth somewhere else, but come here to retire.  Interesting...

How does this compare to other states I've lived in?

Well, California is Best at diversity, and Worst at quality of life. I'm surprised at that, because I remember California as wonderful - and I don't think it was all youth and hormones...

But it beats North Carolina (where I went to graduate school for a while at Chapel Hill), which is Best at Millenial Living but Worst at STDs. Please folks - start using condoms!

Georgia is Best at onions - specifically Vidalia, and I can attest to their sweetness.  It's Worst at flu prevention.

Tennessee is Best at Fast Wi-Fi - apparently the state's internet is 50 times speedier than the national average, and God only knows how they got that - and Worst at childhood obesity rates.

But let's move on to crime.  What's the most famous unsolved crime in every state?  (see MSN to look up your state.)

In South Dakota, it's the murders of 30-year-old LaDonna Mathis and her two sons, aged 4 and 2, shot dead on September 8, 1981, in Mount Vernon in Davison County, South Dakota. The father, John Mathis, was shot in the arm, but survived. He said a masked man had carried out the attack, but investigators considered him the prime suspect. He was acquitted a year later when a jury found him not guilty, mainly because the prosecution had no witnesses, no murder weapon and little physical evidence.  "As I look back, I would have recognized that at that time there was a myth, a myth that parents could not harm their children, No. 1," then-Attorney General Mark Meierhenry said. "No 2., that sometimes myth overwhelms reason. Because it's what we all want to believe."

NOTE:  The Argus Leader has a whole different set of top five unsolved mysteries - look them up HERE.

BTW, there are lots of gruesome stories on this website, but the weirdest one is from Vermont:
Between 1920 and 1950, as many as 10 people mysteriously disappeared in a patch of woods surrounding Glastenbury Mountain in southwestern Vermont. Native Americans consider Glastenbury Mountain “cursed” and used it strictly for burying their dead. They believed the land to be cursed because all four winds met in that spot. There is also mention in native American folklore of an enchanted stone which is said to swallow anything that steps on it. Some have also reported UFO activity and Bigfoot sightings in the area.  Author Joseph Citro coined the term "Bennington Triangle" in 1992.  Well, sounds like a new movie franchise to me.

John Dillinger mug shot.jpg
John Dillinger
The most notorious crime for each state is almost always entirely different (see Insider) than the "most famous unsolved" one, with the exceptions of the murder of Jon Benet-Ramsay in Colorado, and the murder of TV star Bob Crane in Scottsdale, AZ in 1978.  But they are indeed all notorious - I'd heard of most of them, including the 1924 murder by Leopold and Loeb of their 14 year old cousin, Bobby Franks, the 1954 Clutter murders which was the source material for Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood", and Jeffrey MacDonald, who was accused and eventually convicted of the 1970 murders of his family at Fort Bragg.  BTW, Mr. MacDonald has consistently declared his innocence (but then so do so many), but has consistently been refuted, denied, etc.  However, in 1997 DNA testing was done on some hair from the crime scene, some of which matched no one in the MacDonald family.  So far this evidence has not been enough to get him a new trial.  That happens more often than you'd think.  

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, it's when John Dillinger robbed the Security National Bank in Sioux Falls on March 6, 1934.  He got $50,000, which would be almost a million dollars today.

Now it's very appropriate that a bank robbery would be our most notorious crime, because when it comes to crime statistics, South Dakota is best known for its larceny.  61% of all our major crimes are monetary, and if you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention to my past blogs on EB-5, Gear Up!, and Maria Butina:  61% larceny and theft, 14% burglary, 14% aggravated assault (combine drinking and winter, and a lot of stuff happens around the bars or at home), 7% motor vehicle theft, and the remaining 4% rape, robbery, and murder/manslaughter.  (MuniNetGuide)

I looked over the charts, and while the numbers do change, the actual proportions of crime look almost the same for all the states. But you feel it a bit more in a state like this.  South Dakota has a current population of around 870,000, which means that each and every South Dakotan will either experience crime, commit crime, or feel the effects of crime upon them or someone they know. You know that whole "Six Degrees of Separation" rap? Here it's Two Degrees. At the most.

It's like when Carl Ericsson, 72 years old and holding a serious grudge, came to Madison, SD one night in 2012, and went literally from door to door, looking for someone on his grudge list who was home.  (Yes, he had a list.)  Fortunately for all but one, the only one home was a very popular retired teacher, Norm Johnson, who Ericsson shot twice in the face.  Johnson died that night.  I knew Johnson - he always was the host of the annual Spelling Bee, and I was one of the AAUW women who judged it.  I also knew him from substitute teaching at the high school when we first moved up to Madison.  I didn't know Carl Ericsson, but I knew his brother (who was also on Carl's grudge list), and all of his brother's family.  And that night the deputy who lived next door to us knocked on my door and asked me to babysit his kids while he went to join the other law enforcement looking for the shooter.  This was before anyone knew who the shooter was, or where he was, or who he was looking for.  The deputy gave me a gun in case the shooter came calling, and I sat there while the kids slept for a few hours.  Safe, but listening for footsteps on the sidewalk, and/or a knock on the door.  Everyone in Madison (population 6,000+) knew either Ericsson, Johnson, or both.  It resonated in a way that you almost never see on TV.

But back to embezzlement.  Besides grifting on the state level, there's also one heck of a lot of small potatoes embezzlement here in South Dakota, much of it fueled by gambling addiction and/or medical bills.  $500 from the local VFW; $1,500 from a doctor's office; $2,500 from a nursing home.  Interestingly, besides the public humiliation, the punishment is more a slap on the wrist:  the main penalty is to pay the money back and do community service; rarely is there any jail time.  Perhaps that's why it's so common...

hi-grain_766852540621But every once in a while it gets bigger than video lottery.  Just recently, up in Kingsbury County a family-run grain elevator has gone bankrupt because the family was hedging commodities and lost as much as $15 million of other people's money. Now that's serious gambling. And the farmers who trust them are in a world of hurt.  The farmers hauled their grain to the elevator, waited for prices to go up and the grain to be sold, and then waited, waited, waited for their checks...  Besides the fact that the grain elevator pocketed the money, while grain purchasers have to post bonds to guarantee that they'll pay the grain producers - but this company only had a bond of $400,000.  That's going to resonate for a long time.  Maybe longer than murder.  (KELO-TV)

Anyway, that's all from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

PS - In a sea-filled flavor of things to come, Madison, SD is taking up shrimp farming!  Tru Shrimp, from Ballaton, MN, has announced plans to build its first commercial shrimp harbor in Madison. "The facility is expected to employ 60, produce 8 million pounds of shrimp annually, and have a $30 million impact on a five-county area."  (Madison Daily Leader)  Because nothing says shrimp harbor like the plains of South Dakota... I see a real story coming here, folks, and I will keep you posted!

PPS - Leigh Lundin's tid-bits from Florida have made me feel that I need to provide aid and comfort to him in regard to a certain Mr. Sardo.  (Leigh's post)  Here in South Dakota, on January 11, 2019, an Ipswich man was convicted for fulfilling his dream of having sex with underage twins - in this case, two calves.  He tried to claim that the laws against bestiality were unconstitutional, but the judge didn't buy it.  (Story Here)


08 June 2017

Of Safes and Smoke


by Eve Fisher

Do you remember the South Dakota GEAR UP! scandal?  The one that got started when, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota?  And they were all later found to be shot to death?
Quick Note:  (GEAR UP! is a federal grant program to get financial assistance to low-income students; here in SD it's primary aim was supposed to be helping Native American students.)  
Image result
SD AG Marty Jackley
Now, my regular readers may remember that South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and children, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on an official combined salary (his and his wife's) from Mid Central Educational Co-Op of $130,000.  Later, it turned out that the Westerhuises had set up a number of shell organizations, and given themselves hefty salaries from them all.

Well, I'm happy to announce that the General Audit of Mid Central and GEAR UP! has finally been released and it shows:

(1) Scott and Nicole Westerhuis took nearly $8 million out of Mid Central's bank account without authorization to cover the salaries of their non-profit organizations. Supposedly most of that money was returned to Mid Central (how, when, where?), but $1.4 million was still missing at the time of the Westerhuis family's deaths.

(2) The Mid Central Board and its director, Dan Guericke, didn't have enough oversight and never addressed the risks created by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis having roles in the non-profits they set up to take the GEAR UP! grant money.

(3) Guericke didn't get approval by the board for 17 contracts and a number of payments made without contracts with the Westerhuises.

Naturally, the blame game has begun:
  • Mid Central's board is blaming the South Dakota Department of Education ("lead partner" in the GEAR UP! grant and responsible for ensuring the project was carried out in accordance to federal rules and regulations).  
  • The SD DOE says it did its job of conducting reviews of grant expenses and tightened up its controls when it began noticing issues in 2014, which is why it cancelled its contract with Mid Central right before the Westerhuis tragedy.  
  • The Mid Central board's responded that, "no amount of reasonable oversight would have detected the complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal activities conducted by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis."  (Angela Kennecke, KELO TV)  
  • NOTE:  I once put together five years of an organization's accounts from a checking account register.  You can figure out a lot if you just follow the money...
  • Also, Cory's blog Dakota Free Press has all the facts and figures that we have so far, and all the excuses piled up so far.
So, June 30, 2017, Mid Central will shut down. 12 of its 13 members have formed Core Educational Cooperative.  The same staff of Mid Central (those who are not going to trial) are now going to work for Core (at least half of them had to have conflict-of-interest waivers to work for Mid Central, and will now have to have conflict-of-interest waivers to be able to work for Core); the Mid Central Board is liquidating their assets (even though $1.4 million in tax-payer money is still owed to our long-suffering public).  Please see Cory Heidelberger's article at Dakota Free Press for a fuller experience of how deep it's getting piled.  Again...

Meanwhile, no one's come forward yet to untangle the following mysteries:
(1) Who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire?
(2) Why did Mid Central Educational Co-op, which owned the Westerhuis cell phones, cancel them and wipe the records the next morning, before the ashes from the arson had even cooled?
(3) What did Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke talk about with Scott Westerhuis for an hour on the evening before the tragedy?  (Guericke told the board the two really didn't talk about much at all.)
(4) What happened to the Westerhuis safe, which trotted out of the house like a trained pig right before the house was torched?

Yes, there's going to be a trial of 3 Mid Central employees, including Director Guericke.  Maybe the questions will be answered then...  But I'm not holding my breath.  Will keep you posted.

Cannabis Plant.jpgThe other big news of the week hearkens back to last year, when the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe reversed course on opening America's first Tribal Marijuana Coffee Shop, and burned the whole crop in November.  (They had been warned that they were going to be raided by federal officials.)  AG Jackley was suspicious that they hadn't burned it all, and talked about charges.  And he did.  He charged Colorado marijuana industry consultants Eric Hagen and Jonathan Hunt for helping the tribe set up their grow room, etc.  (BTW, State AGs can’t prosecute non-Indians for crimes on reservations, but Jackley argued that his office had jurisdiction to prosecute victimless crimes committed by non-Indians.) Hunt rolled over and pled guilty but Hagen went to trial: and was acquitted by a jury. (Hagen testified that he was simply a consultant with experience in the industry who had been hired by the tribe, and apparently the jury agreed with him.) Marty Jackley was restrained, saying that he respected the jury's verdict.  (See the Argus Leader article for more details.)

Many people believe that the reason Jackley pursued this lawsuit was because he and current SD Rep. Kristi Noem (R) are going to duke it out for the South Dakota Governor's Office next year, and he's trying to get out front on the law & order issue. (Most of us think taxes and health care would be more salient...) But, as we move into yet another election year, the questions pile up:
Will GEAR UP! come up?
Will crop insurance?
Will marijuana?
Will riding horses?
Will let you know.

Meanwhile, a friend just told me that a forrmer public works director (no names were named) said that South Dakota doesn't really need federal money for infrastructure, because driving on bumpy roads isn't all that much of an inconvenience. My friend pointed out that tourists might disagree & he said tourism doesn't impact the state economy that much...

Crazy Horse Memorial - Photo by TBennert on Wikipedia
Mount Rushmore
Mount Rushmore - Wikipedia
Badlands National Park - Wikipedia
Black Hills -Needles-31.jpg
The Needles - photo courtesy of
Doug Knuth - https://www.flickr.com/photos/dknuth/7677770944/
Wikipedia

Bear Butte - photo courtesy of
Jsoo1, as English Wikipedia image: en:Image:Bearbutte4.jpg

Main Street Sturgis South Dakota Bike Week.jpg
Sturgis motorcycle rally - Photo courtesy of
Cumulus Clouds, Wikipedia
Are our public officials TRYING to run our economy into the ground, or are they just stupid?

More later, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 Goodfellas.jpg


13 October 2016

More Updates From South Dakota


by Eve Fisher

One of the fun things about having moved around a lot is that you learn that most places look a whole lot alike any more, from the strip malls to gas stations, from fast-food chains to housing developments.  And don't even get me started on the "industrial parks", where large metal sheds are the new factories (no windows, two doors, completely anonymous).  Even Josiah Bounderby would think they were a little too utilitarian.

On the other hand, the other fun thing you learn is that, underneath all that sameness, there are real differences.

Image result for dry corn in fields south dakotaOne thing that puzzled me when I first moved up here, was why there were so many cornfields standing, unharvested, well into November, December, January, February...  I mean, there's brown corn, with cobs, with snow.  So I asked about that:  "Was there some sort of blight?" And was told that the corn was freeze-drying in the fields, to save the cost of corn dryers.  Who knew?  I'd been living in the South for the last 17 years, where they harvest at harvest time, i.e., the fall, because if they leave the corn in the field, it'll rot with all the rain.  Up here...  well, we're colder than that.

Here's another puzzler:

Image result for signs limousin service

There's lots of signs here in South Dakota for "Limousin Service". As a newcomer, I had two questions:

(1) why were there so many limousine services in rural South Dakota?
(2) why didn't they spell it right?

Later I learned that a Limousin (outside of Sioux Falls) is a cow. French origin, from the Limousin, but all over the place up here, along with Angus, Shorthorn, Simmenthal, etc.   And, of course, Limousin Service is about breeding.  (Which sometimes happens in limousines, too, but we won't get into that.)

BTW, this is NOT a misspelling, but deliberate:

Image result for toe service

There are more than one of these signs along I-29 between Sioux Falls and Mitchell.  Dick knows how to make you look.  Betcha he gets a lot of calls, too.
BTW, this is why I regularly put characters asking stupid questions into my stories.  God knows I've done it often enough.
Thankfully, there are other ways to find out what's going on in a new area than running around asking crazy questions.  For one thing, find out who's the biggest gossip in town and park yourself next to him at the Norseman's Bar or her down at the Laskin Cafe.

Another way is to read the local paper.  And not just the local daily paper, but the local weekly paper, which services the whole county.  We have one, called "The Peach".  If you need field irrigation wells, farm & home wells, high capacity pumps; if you want to buy a limousin 2 year old bull or an Angus yearling; if you need retrenching or a ride to Branson to see Daniel O'Donnell; or any sort of job in the healthcare, farming, or hog confinement industry, the Peach is the place to go.

Did I mention barn straightening?  Seed cleaning?  Bean stubble baling?

Also pork loin feeds, and church suppers, all of which are other places where you can go and get fed while catching up on the news/gossip/weather report.

And then there are the Locals, where we find out what to do with our spare time:
  • Dist. 8 Conservatives Luncheon
  • Laskin Duplicate Bridge
  • Arts Council
  • Alcoholics Anonymous 
  • Sr. Citizens Dance (hugely popular; if you're a guy who loves to dance, you will not sit down for longer than it takes to have a cup of coffee or a highball to pep you up for the next dance.)
  • Christian Motorcyclists Association
  • VFW Auxiliary Sunday Brunch - every Sunday, great pancakes, come on down!
  • The Country Swingers (more dancing; get your mind out of the gutter) 
Now granted, it's not the Agony Column that Sherlock Holmes read every day, but things slip in.

Like what happened to the person who posted "Acres of good used hog equipment for sale"?  What happened to THAT hog containment operation?  And why does s/he say, "Save this ad"?

Or why is someone "looking for used mobile homes, 1995 or older, will pay CASH."  Do they breed? Are they refurbished and sold as new?  Or are they being shipped up to the Bakken for the man-camps?

Or the sale of "Positive Rain Gutters".  (Watch out for negative rain gutters, they will leak and you.)

And there are auctions galore, of course.  These are important, not only because you can bid on everything from TOOLS OF ALL KINDS (and they ain't kidding!) to Antiques, Trucks, Household Goods, Implements, Stationary Engines, Parts & Pieces, and the land itself.  Auctions are where people gather.  They last all day; food (or at least coffee) is often served; and people stand around and catch up on everything, from who's there and who isn't.

And speaking of auctions, we had a humdinger back in September.  You remember the Gear Up! scandal, where, early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  Our Attorney General Marty Jackley determined that Scott Westerhuis shot his entire family, torched the house, and then shot himself, all because he was about to be caught for embezzling enough funds - and no one still knows how much - to build a $1.3 million rural home, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, etc., etc., etc., on a combined salary of $130,000.

Well, look to your right, folks.  Yes, they auctioned off what stuff survived the fire that night.  For a detailed look at what was on auction, read Cory Heidelberger's blog HERE.

As you might expect, the auction was a major topic of discussion around town.  Many of us agreed that we would not be anxious to have any item from that property because we are almost all superstitious, and feel like the TVs might go on and off by themselves, or perhaps the desk roller chairs might start swiveling around in the middle of the night, like at, say 2:57 AM when someone used the Westerhuis landline to call Nicole Westerhuis' cell phone...

The land itself was sold at auction to the Platte Area Ministerial Association, who plan to open an interdenominational Christian camp there.  Unfortunately, they only had the $37,000 down payment and are trying to raise the rest of the $370,000 bid.  They've set up a GoFundMe page, which hopefully will work.  (Although I can't but wonder if an exorcism might also help...)

And where did the funds that were raised go?  To pay for the funerals; compensation for estate representatives and attorneys; a dozen credit card companies, banks, and workers.  Meanwhile, Gear Up! will not be reimbursed nor, apparently, the State of South Dakota.

And speaking of Gear Up - Mid Central Educational Co-op Director Dan Guericke is accused of backdating contracts to avoid a government audit, plus sighing at least 17 illegally secret contracts on behalf of Mid Central worth $3.8 million. Where, oh, where did the money go? (see all of Angela Kennecke's report HERE.

Speaking of Guericke and Westerhuis, "Guericke spent more than an hour on the phone with Scott Westerhuis the evening before the tragedy and when the board questioned him about what was said, sources tell me that Guericke told them the two really didn't talk about much at all."  Mm-hmm.

Did I mention that they STILL haven't found Scott Westerhuis safe?

Ah, South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 

28 April 2016

Janice Law's "Homeward Dove"


by Eve Fisher

Have you ever looked around and realized you're in a dead-end job, in a dead-end town, working your butt off for just enough to keep you in rent and groceries?  Too much drinking, too much junk food, too much wasted time.  A memory of something better - like that girl back in high school - but right now you've settled.  Oh, how you've settled.  The only good thing in your life is fishing, drinking, and the occasional roll in the hay with a woman who's also settled, and doesn't really care...

And it ticks you off, down deep. It should be better than this.  There should at least be a future, right? Maybe a vacation that doesn't involve Motel 6 or a friend's busted out old camper? A better job? A home and family?

And if you can't get that, why should you play it straight?  It's a mug's game, and you don't want to be just another loser.  So you cut corners, do some dicey stuff, make a little money on the side, but you've got your ass covered.  Everything's fine.

And then in she walks.  Not Lana Turner from The Postman Always Rings Twice.  The supervisor from hell, with a clipboard, an attitude, and a taste for money.  The kind of person who knows who's screwing the company, because that's her plan, too.  And she goes straight for your throat.  Pay up, or get fired.  And keep paying, paying, paying...

Welcome to the first 14 pages of Janice Law's new novel, Homeward Dove.  (Available here at Amazon, in paperback and on Kindle.)

Our dead-ender is Jeff Woodbine, our supervisor from hell is Michelle, and the high school dream girl is Jess.

So, where do you think this is going to go?  Not where you think.  Like a Coen Brothers' movie, this has twists and turns, dark humor and black deeds, that go places that you don't expect, but when they come, you know they're absolutely right.

Michelle is like all blackmailers, just stupid enough so that her greed makes her feel invincible.  She keeps pushing, and pushing, and pushing for more money.  Jeff is at the end of his rope.  But on the opening day of trout season, when a hungover Jeff climbs out of bed with his f-buddy, Lynn, and goes down to the river to clear his head, who does he find but Michelle, wheeling a toddler down the path.

Well, they're going to get into a fight, right?  Yes.

He's going to kill her, right?  Inadvertently, yes.

The only witness?  A toddler, who can't even speak...

And when he gets back home, Lynn is still asleep, nobody's noticed, everything's fine.

So why does he feel so sick?  And what happens when the police show up?  Thank God - in Jeff's world - for Hurricane Andrew, which gives him a chance to get out of town without seeming like he's running away.  He works hard, cleans up his act, makes some money, lives with it all.

Months later, he's back, to a new job.  And he runs into Jess, the woman he's always wanted, who cried in his arms the night before her marriage to a man who died a few years later, a military hero. She's beautiful, sympathetic, loving; and Leon, her son, is the toddler in the stroller who saw Jeff kill Michelle.

So, where do you think this is going to go?  Not where you think.

There are twists and turns. Conscience and cops.  A fire that damn near destroys everything.  A story that Jeff's grandfather has shared with no one, "Though you're maybe the one to tell."  And when he does, it comes with a warning:  "See you be careful and don't get into [a business] that's as high priced."  But the warning comes too late for Jeff.  What he needs is to know what to do next.

Homeward Dove is like a Coen brothers' or an Alfred Hitchcock movie, where ordinary people in ordinary lives get bad breaks, make bad choices, and do bad things.  Sometimes very bad things. And then try to break free, as frantic as a fly in a spider's web.

You can't help but root for Jeff.  But what's right?  What's fair?  What should happen?  What does?
"Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin.
Dance me through the panic 'til I'm gathered safely in.
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove...
Dance me to the end of love;
Dance me to the end of love."       Dance me to the end of love - Leonard Cohen

14 April 2016

If Only We Had LAWS Against This Stuff...


by Eve Fisher

"If only we had LAWS against this stuff..." and other crazy statements:

Okay, a few reminders just to catch everyone up.
    Joop Bollen and then-Governor,
    current SD Senator, Mike Rounds,
    in happier days
    • Back in 2009, Joop Bollen was appointed to run EB-5 - which was a federal program designed to trade green cards to foreign investors for $500,000 a whack - by our former governor, current Senator Mike Rounds, who, when questioned recently about all of this, said, "The state of South Dakota would use different federal programs on a regular basis and you always assume that if the federal program is in place that they have a control process in place. We’re finding in some cases that that is not the case " (Mike Rounds interview).  Like when you put Joop Bollen in charge of that federal program, allowed him to privatize it in SDRC Inc., and told everyone what a great job he was doing?  (I swear to God, you can't make this stuff up... Sadly...)  
    • There's still as much as $120 million missing from the EB-5 program. 
    • For two years, the only person held responsible for any missing funds was Richard Benda, who according to our fearless AG shot himself in the stomach with a shotgun in a field because he'd embezzled $500,000.  
    AND NOW FOR THE LATEST !!!  HEADLINE NEWS !!!

    Image result for eb-5 south dakotaFirst of all, our own Attorney General, Marty ("I'm going to be running for governor in 2018, so I need to get something on paper") Jackley has FINALLY indicted Joop Bollen on five felony counts of violating SDCL 44-1-2, “unauthorized disposal of personal property subject to security interest.” In other words, Bollen used EB-5 money, transferred to his own private corporation, SDRC Inc., for his own personal purchases.   $300,000 here, $96,000 there, to a total of about $1.2 million. He sent some to Pyush Patel of Griffin, Georgia (who owns gas stations and has been participating in Bollen's corporation creationism since 2005), some Bollen just pocketed, and some (and this is my favorite part) Bollen spent on Egyptian artifacts from Christie's and the Harer Family Trust.

    NOTE: Bollen, through his lawyers, claims he's being scapegoated.  Mr. Bollen is also free on an unsecured $2,500 bond. (That should make you spit your coffee out in shock:  let's face facts, you'd have to post a lot more money than that if you'd just robbed a casino and gotten only $200 bucks.)

    NOTE WITH FACEPALM:  Nor has the Dutch born and raised Bollen been asked to surrender his passport.  Jackley said that “at this point” he “did not have concern” about the passport, “as long as we’re made aware of certain travel,” since Bollen has “significant ties financially to this community.” (Bollen Initial Appearance - dakotafreepress.com - once again, thanks Cory Heidelberger for GREAT coverage!)  Again, you'd have a rougher time of it if you'd robbed a casino and gotten only $200 bucks...

    And here's the best part: Right now our fearless AG Jackley - who, as I said, for 2 years has blamed Richard Benda for any and all EB-5 problems - is now blaming the whole mess on (drum roll, please!) a lack of tough laws making conflict of interest a felony! Personally, I would have thought that our laws making embezzlement, fraud, etc., felonies would have been enough, but apparently not.  We need more.  So it's really all the South Dakota legislature's fault...

    Oh, and one quick note about the Gear Up! scandal (6 people dead and counting) and the missing Westerhuis safe (The Chinese Are Coming). “I don’t know where that safe is at,” Jackley said. “I don’t know if it burned in the fire or if Scott Westerhuis took it out and threw it in the Missouri River.” (Jackley Conspiracy Theories, Argus Leader)  Feel free to insert obvious questions here:

     __________________________________________________________________________

    US District Attorney Marty Jackley.png
    Marty Jackley
    Meanwhile, Mr. Jackley, having apparently solved everything about EB-5 and Gear Up! (except that pesky $118.5 million in EB-5 money, the pesky $4 million in Gear Up! money, and the pesky missing Westerhuis safe), is far more interested in investigating the destruction of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe's marijuana crop in November (some of the burning was shown on television) after the tribe suspended plans to legalize marijuana on its reservation.
    "I don’t think for a minute that they destroyed $1 million worth of marijuana. I don’t know where that went and it’s an open case. We never shut that case," Jackley said in an interview with Argus Leader Media. “We never got an opportunity to check what was destroyed." (Up in Smoke?)  

    Priorities, priorities...

    And now, 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.

    Will keep you posted, from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

     

    31 March 2016

    Barney Got a Gun


    by Eve Fisher

    I hope everyone had a Happy Easter, Good Passover, and other appropriate holiday.  Up here, one of our Easter Eggs held indictments - at last - for three in one of our South Dakota scandals - Gear Up!


    (Wouldn't you know it, the cheap one, only a few million missing, whereas EB-5, with $120 million missing taxpayer dollars, is still blamed on the guy who supposedly shot himself in the stomach in a field while hunting...)  
    But let us rejoice in small favors.  What happened was that our own Attorney General, Marty ("I'm going to be running for governor in 2018, so I need to get something on paper") Jackley held a press conference and announced that three, count 'em THREE people were responsible for aiding and abetting Scott and Nicole Westerhuis in their embezzlement and fraud.

    Quick reprise:  Early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It was later declared ed by AG Marty Jackley that Scott Westerhuis shot his entire family, torched the house, and then shot himself. There is still the ongoing mystery of who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire, and what happened to the safe that apparently got up on its hind legs and trotted out of the house before the carnage.

    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.
    Further reprise:  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, including Gear Up.  Nicole also worked there.  Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education, including - but not limited to! -  the American Indian Institute for Innovation, a/ka AIII.  Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, CFO of some, including AIII, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.  And 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.

    Okay, back to the news conference!  On March 16, 2016, Marty Jackley announced that he filed charges against and arrested: 

    Daniel Mark Guericke, MCEC Executive: 2 counts of falsification of evidence, class 6 felony, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment in the state penitentiary and/or $4,000 fine, 4 counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence, class 5 felony, punishable as a Class 6 felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine.  Full transcript of complaint here: (PDF of Complaint filed)

    Stephanie A. Hubers, Former MCEC interim business manager: 1 count of grand theft, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine, 2 counts of grand theft by deception, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine, 3 alternative counts of receiving stolen property, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine.

    Stacy Lee Phelps, Former AIII (see above)/GEAR UP operator: 2 counts of falsification of evidence, class 6 felony, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine, 2 counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence, class 5 felony, punishable as a Class 6 felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine.
    NOTE:  Mr. Phelps' lawyer is mounting a vigorous defense, based on the idea that Mr. Phelps is a scapegoat.  Perhaps he is.  (If so, he should be thanking his lucky stars that he isn't lying in a field somewhere...)  

    Among other things, Guericke, Phelps, the Westerhuises and “other unknown co-conspirators" were all accused of falsifying and backdating contracts, including those of 
    • Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who (memorably) couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television, and 
    • Keith Moore, Governor Mike Rounds' director of Indian education. 
    So far, neither Dr. Melmer (who as Secretary of Education under Governor Mike Rounds, moved supervision of Gear Up from the DOE in Pierre to MCEC in Platte), nor Mr. Moore (who also received a good chunk of change), nor former Mid-Central board chairman Lloyd Persson (who actually signed the bogus contracts) have been indicted, and Jackley has indicated that they won't be.

    Nor has anyone asked Secretary of Education Melody Schopp to resign, even though she let MCEC continue their interesting approach to funding for three years after she noticed that something smelled a little funny.  Apparently, they are still looking into at least two other MCEC staffers who (according to Hubers) blackmailed some money out of Westerhuis.  Cory Heidelberger suggests that Mr. Jackley look into the board members of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, which was, apparently, the hub of moving stolen money around.  And no one has mentioned my favorite, Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, who received money from the MCEC for teaching "Teaching American History" in a state that has made it optional.  

    Also, we're down to only $1 million missing, instead of $14 million, but hey, it's still better than the EB-5 mess.  Right?  

    Angela Kennecke, KELO-TV
    Well, right now, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

    "Sources who have first-hand knowledge within the Department of Education tell KELO-LAND News there were questionable expenses involving GEAR UP grant money as early as 2006 that were brought to the attention of department officials."  Angela Kennecke, 3/23/16

    What this means, in South Dakota speak, where no one ever admits anything is actually WRONG, is that there's something else coming.  Possibilities:

    (1) People ('sources') know that more hell is about to break loose and are getting ready to get out from under it.
    (2) It's possible that someone ('sources') in the higher-ups is authorizing a leak, which is the first step to a flood.
    (3) They found the safe.  

    Okay, the last one's HIGHLY unlikely.  And if they do find it, it'll probably just be full of pork.

    And there's the recent news that "There have been several million dollars diverted out of school funding at Lower Brule [reservation] and as a result they had to go into restructuring which is a federal requirement when you have really low school performance. And so they hired AIII Stacey Phelps, which at the time was the head of AIII, and Scott Westerhuis was the COO. So they (Lower Brule) brought in AIII to manage Lower Brule schools and that had been going on for about two years."  (Thanks again, Cory Heidelberger and the Dakota Free Press!)  And people wonder why the Reservations up here are still in a world of financial hurt...

    Anyway, that's the latest update from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

     


    14 January 2016

    The Chinese Are Coming!


    by Eve Fisher

    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.

    22 October 2015

    A Little Light Corruption


    by Eve Fisher

    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.