Education Secretary Melody Schopp’s newsworthy (one, two, three, four blog posts on Dakota Free Press, coverage by Mercer, Ferguson, Russo, Kennecke… but predictably, not a word from Powers on Schopp, just diversionary and non-analytical flak for the GOP establishment) response to legislators’ questions about the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal includes some so far underplayed evidence that Secretary Schopp remains more interested in distancing herself from the Mid-Central thieves than in really digging into the corruption and crimes that took place under her watch.
Questions #15 and 16 ask Secretary Schopp when she became aware of the apparent nepotism in GEAR UP grant director Stacy Phelps’s hiring of numerous relatives, including his aunt Alice Phelps. That nepotism has been widely reported, but Secretary Schopp, who should have access to as much information about GEAR UP expenditures as the rest of us and at least as much interest in figuring it all out, can only say she is “generally aware that some Phelps family members were employed” and claims she is not aware that Alice Phelps specifically had such employment. Schopp questions the accuracy of the premise of these two questions, even though she cites the December 2015 Eide Bailly audit that accounts for the direct GEAR UP employment of the Phelps clan to emphasize her preferred talking point that “there was no missing GEAR UP money.”
Question #17 asks when Secretary Schopp became aware of Stacy Phelps’s connection to the web of shell corporations created by Mid-Central scandal kingpin Scott Westerhuis. Secretary Schopp claims ignorance of that corporate web, even though Bob Mercer reported those curious corporate documents on September 22, 2015, just days after the spectacular Westerhuis murder/arson/suicide launched Mid-Central into widespread public awareness. At that moment, a Secretary of Education in crisis mode would surely have had her staff gathering every bit of relevant information they could. That Secretary of Education Schopp would have ignored the publicly documented existence of those suspicious corporations as one avenue to check for the possible disappearance of state or federal funds is simply incredible.
Reporters seeking to get to the bottom of the GEAR UP/Mid-Central scandal have noted the above details. A Secretary of Education committed to getting to the bottom of the scandal would do the same. Secretary Schopp seems less interested in getting to the bottom of GEAR UP and more interested in getting out from under the scandal.