Showing posts with label scandals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label scandals. Show all posts

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.

 


03 March 2016

A Sorry State of Affairs...

by Eve Fisher

All right, I admit it, I'm running late on this blog, but I've been spending the last two weeks e-mailing my state legislators and governor over a variety of bills that seem to come straight out of the minds of ALEC. (Look it up.  Also, here:  SD Legislators with ALEC ties.) You see, we only have a 2-month legislature, that only sits 38 working days, so if I don't express my opinions now, I won't have time later on. Seriously - the session is going to end March 11. (Veto Day is March 29.)

First off, South Dakota is still officially missing $120 million dollars in EB-5 fees and investments, $14 million dollars spent (somewhere) of Gear Up! federal money, 7 people dead, cell phones wiped by the managing company the morning after an arson/murders/suicide (maybe), and a safe that had legs like a dog and walked out the door in the middle of the night. So, what's on our legislature's minds? Transgender potties and single women.



There's also House Joint Resolution 1002, which wants a new Constitutional Convention to propose “amendments to the Constitution of the United States that impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government, and limit the terms of office for its officials and members of Congress.” That'll fly.

Meanwhile, we're last in the nation for teacher pay, and our legislature is trying desperately, DESPERATELY to not put into action Governor Daugaard's proposal to increase sales tax by 1/2 of a cent to pay for increases. My favorite excuses are (1) that they haven't had time to read the bill and (2) that they haven't had time to come up with an alternate funding proposal. They've known about this since December. This is called kicking the can so far down the road that maybe it will disappear. At one point the House rejected it. Finally, though, late yesterday, through sheer shaming by most of us citizenry, it passed. We will no longer be 50th.

Wild Bill Janklow
There was also HB 1161, which would preemptively render useless an intiative that we the people are planning on voting on in November to rein in payday loans. South Dakota is, in case you don't know it, the usury capital of the country, thanks to the 1978 SCOTUS ruling in Marquette Nat. Bank of Minneapolis v. First of Omaha Service Corp, which (summed up) says that your individual state anti-usury laws cannot be enforced against nationally chartered banks located out of state. Our then governor, "Wild Bill" Janklow, heard that and persuaded the legislature to pass a bill that repealed South Dakota's cap on interest rates. And so Citibank, Wells Fargo, and other institutions moved here and life is sweet.

My favorite bill was HB 1107, which was "to ensure government nondiscrimination in matters of religious beliefs and moral convictions," as long as their religious beliefs and moral convictions were the following:
The Compound, West River in Pringle, South Dakota
  1. Marriage is or should only be recognized as the union of one man and one woman;
  2. Sexual relations are properly reserved to marriage; or
  3. The terms male or man and female or woman refer to distinct and immutable biological sexes that are determined by anatomy and genetics by the time of birth.
(I have yet to determine why we apparently have religious beliefs and moral convictions about sex: what about usury? war? violence? lying? greed?)

Anyway, one of the great ironies of this bill is that at least one of the sponsors was an unmarried man who posted pictures of himself and his hot girlfriend all over social media. (It's a small state: you can find these things out.) I wrote many of my legislators about this bill, but my first question wasn't the obvious, "And were you a virgin on your wedding night?" Instead, it was, "Does this mean you guys are finally going to take on the polygamous sects living in compounds out West River?" (No one answered that question.) I also pointed out that birth anatomy and birth genetics can be entirely different (I used to work at Medical Genetics - see my blog post here (Medical Genetics). Everyone assured me that this was a non-discriminatory bill, to which I replied, politely, "Bull hockey." This bill has been - thankfully - tabled. Hopefully it will stay that way.
NEWS FLASH: The feds have actually taken on the polygamous sect led by Warren Jeffs' brother Seth in Pringle, South Dakota over food stamp fraud! Huzzah! Federal Probe Shows Details of Polygamous Sect. BTW, to those who don't know, the way these polygamous sects get around the laws against polygamy is by having "spiritual" marriages, which are not registered anywhere. The women - usually child brides, with no power of refusal - are then registered for food stamps, etc., as single mothers. Sadly, most of their sons are booted out of the compound as soon as they get to puberty, because there aren't enough brides to go around, since the old men are marrying all the daughters as soon as they hit puberty. Now you know why I asked about that...
But the one that's taken up most of my writing time is the transgender potty bill, which would would prohibit public school students from using a bathroom or locker room for a sex other than theirs at birth. (We really made the national news with that one. Sigh.) It passed the House, it passed the Senate, and now it's on Governor Daugaard's desk. I've been writing him almost every day, with at least one of the following arguments:
  1. Transgender people don't want to do anything but use the bathroom safely. A boy who is transgendering to a girl doesn't want to assault girls, he wants to become one. A girl who is transgendering to a boy doesn't want to assault boys, she wants to become one.
  2. Every student I've talked to doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. They all know some transgender students and have no problem with them using whichever bathroom they're comfortable in. (Bathrooms have stalls, with doors that lock.)
  3. Gender is something that is not obvious, and is not always determined at birth. (See my Medical Genetics article link above.)
  4. There is one bathroom which everyone uses - old and young, straight and gay, male and female, adults and children - and no one is worried about assault or trauma or shock: it's the one in your home. You go in, and shut the door.


The latest one - and I'm about to start writing my legislators on as soon as I finish this blog - is SB 159, which gives insurance companies credits on their premium and annuity taxes for granting “scholarships” for private K-12 school tuition to low-income students. The fun part of this is that the legislator who sponsored this bill is married to (who'd a thunk it?) the founder and owner since 1972 of an insurance company, and was past president of the Sioux Falls Catholic Schools Foundation, and past chairman of Advanced Gifts for the O’Gorman High School Building Funding Drive. Great joy in the morning, who could possibly think there was any conflict of interest?

What's especially irritating about all of this is that we're a relatively poor state; we are, as I said, ranked last in the nation for teacher pay. Governor Daugaard just refused to expand Medicaid again, after he said he would ONLY if the feds will move all Native American healthcare to their dime. Well, the feds did, and now Daugaard announced today that South Dakota still "can't afford" to expand Medicaid - keep kicking that can. Our infrastructure and roads are constantly crumbling (we have hard winters), and, as I said, we have over $120 million missing in taxpayer funds on scandals and corruption. But, rather than deal with any of these problems, our legislature keeps trying to pass bills that will only lead to lawsuits. Apparently, we have plenty of money for those. Not for investigating things that are really and truly affecting us right now.

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



NOTE: Huzzah! Daugaard vetoed the transgender potty bill!