More danger and excitement in Aberdeen—according to the Aberdeen Police Department and a smattering of Facebook friends, an armed robber hit the Deuces Wild/Grande Casino building (I think the e is silent) at 12:06 p.m. today. In multiple signs of a lack of planning, the crook fled in broad daylight on foot (you’ve got to have wheels to put distance between you and the scene of the crime and force the police to spread their search resources) dropping money on the street as he went (bring a bag, preferably a snug backpack to keep both hands free, stuff it with cash, then zip it up so you aren’t leaving a trail bread crumbs).
Local motorcyclist Matthew Spencer reported the crime immediately on Facebook and appears to have helped police track the robber. Aberdeen PD established a perimeter around the neighborhood within minutes. By 12:22, they had apprehended 38-year-old Jesus Antonio Aguilera Rivera in a garage two blocks up and two over, in the 1100 block of Southeast Third Avenue. No shots were fired.
I’d buzz down to the Brown County Jail to get a mugshot of the suspect, but a couple weeks ago, the Brown County Commission voted to increase the cost of newly public mugshots from the already unreasonable $8 to $10, not because of any actual cost of providing the mugshots, but just because they want “a more even number” and want to claw back some of the money they pay the newspaper for publishing legal notices. My Libertarian friends mistakenly claim that taxation is theft. Tacking two bucks onto a fee for a public document—now that’s theft!
In over three hours of testimony to the the Government Operations and Audit Committee in Pierre yesterday, Secretary of Education Melody Schopp said none of the money that Scott Westerhuis and his helpers stole from the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative before his spectacular murder-suicide in September 2015 was stolen from the feds or her department:
State government’s Department of Legislative Audit determined $1.4 million was missing after finishing a special review of Mid Central Educational Cooperative at Platte.
Auditor General Marty Guindon released the review May 19.
But Schopp said Monday the money didn’t come from Gear Up funds her department oversaw.
“That is the biggest takeaway—there was no Gear Up money stolen,” Schopp said. “They were not from Gear Up funds, as has been promoted in the last couple of years.”
Secretary Schopp also noted that the feds have accepted the valuation of software used to satisfy GEAR UP grant matching requirements and have not asked the state to pay back any GEAR UP money. That puzzles me a bit, since the state last month sued Mid-Central and its members schools for $4.5 million, largely to recover missing matching funds.
Two of Senator Russell’s comments stand out in the context of how he will attempt to distinguish himself in what is now a four-way race among legal pals for the Republican A.G. nomination.
First, Senator Russell says the big criminal justice reform bill of 2013 (that year’s Senate Bill 70, Governor Daugaard’s 83-section beastie now known as the Public Safety Improvement Act) has actually made work harder for the Attorney General and all law enforcement. Senator Russell says the PSIA hasn’t saved money so much as shift costs from the state to counties, which now must warehouse more prisoners who used to go to the state pen. Senator Russell blames the statewide increase in crime, especially violent crimes, what he sees as caps on jail sentences that release drug-using convicts before they can get treatment, meaning they return to the streets sooner and commit more crimes to get their fixes. Senator Russell joined six other hard-conservative House Republicans in voting against SB 70 in 2013; he says we need to remove the presumptive probation that ties judges’ hands and results in too many offenders released from county jails too soon without treatment for drug addiction.
Second, Senator Russell noted that the Attorney General lacks the tools to prosecute public corruption that could have allowed A.G. Marty Jackley to sniff out the EB-5 and GEAR UP corruption scandals sooner. Senator Russell supports this year’s Senate Bill 27, one of the Attorney General’s bills, which clearly defines public corruption as theft. However, Senator Russell points to a bill he offered in 2009, House Bill 1288, which he says would have gone further in helping the Attorney General tackle public corruption. That bill, proposed during the Rounds Administration before any corruption in the Rounds-approved EB-5 or GEAR UP came to light, was killed in House State Affairs.
A programming note: my co-host for seventeen episodes of the Dakota Free Press Podcast, Spencer Dobson, is stepping away from our political podcast to focus on his other projects. Spencer provided excellent commentary and good balance to my often arcane Legislative wonkiness. Thanks for your hard work on the podcast, Spencer!
Dana Ferguson tracks down an excellent example of how the crime victims’ bill of rights, the astroturf vanity amendment that California billionaire Henry T. Nicholas spent a small fortune convincing South Dakotans to enact last November, is doing fouling up South Dakota law and business. Specifically, landlords are having a harder time keeping their tenants safe from criminal renters:
The effort to shield victims’ privacy has barred some landlords from accessing details necessary to determine whether tenants have violated a key provision of the Crime Free Multi-Housing Agreement.
“That lack of information is what causes the real headache,” said Ashley Lipp, a regional manager for Lloyd Cos. “Now we have to ask, ‘Is this something that could be a violation of our Crime Free addendum?’ And it’s very difficult to know.”
Details about the location of a police dispatch, including specific address and in some cases apartment number, were provided in call logs ahead of the passage of Marsy’s Law. Landlords could track police calls to their apartment buildings and follow up with tenants about the interactions as needed.
But that changed in November. The specific address of a call was swapped for a block address or nearby intersection where victims opt for their personal details to be concealed.
That has led to additional work for some landlords in determining whether the concerns that prompted the calls came from their tenants or neighbors on the block.
Listomaniac WalletHub throws a bunch of numbers in a pot and figures that South Dakota ranks 43rd among states for “safety”, a construct of crime, financial security, highway calamity, owies at work, and climate disasters. Even greater danger zones are Montana, Arkansas, Missouri, South Caroline, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The safest five states are Vermont, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Hampshire.
Out of all those data points, one jumps out at me this morning: WalletHub says South Dakota has more sex offenders relative to population than all but three other states. Mashing up numbers from Parents for Megan’s Law with Census data agrees: only Delaware, Wisconsin, and Oregon have higher rates of sex offenders among their populations. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children disagrees, saying five states out-perv us:
How does small-town, family-values, great-place-to-raise-kids South Dakota end up with a higher concentration of sex offenders than dens of sin like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, California, and Nevada, all of which have offender-per-population rates right by (California, Illinois) or below (the rest) the national rate?
These stats count registered sex offenders, so you could argue that South Dakota is just better at catching and registering kiddie diddlers and other menaces. But by one count from this 2014 analysis, South Dakota is among states with weaker sex offender laws:
Most other states require offenders to stay on their registries longer than we do. One would think that offenders would cycle off our list more quickly, but it appears South Dakotans have a higher proclivity for getting on that list than do folks in neighboring states. Yuck.
On free speech and perceived threats, SFPD appears to have its head on straight. Unless we see charges in the coming days against our shoot-em-up 15-year-old, A.G. Jackley appears to have a double standard.
Tangentially Related: I check the voter rolls and find that Ehab Jaber is a registered Republican. So back the truck up and give Marty credit for taking one of his own to court.
I’ve just finished reading the 2015 audit. Auditor General Marty Guindon concludes that Mid-Central really, really screwed up. Mid-Central responds by saying the Auditor General is wrong, that they did nothing wrong, and that all blame falls on the dead.
The Auditor General issues adverse opinions—translation: can’t trust them at all—on Mid-Central’s compliance with requirements in running not only the now infamous GEAR UP program but also the Teacher Quality Partnership Grants. Mid-Central gets a qualified opinion—translation: can’t trust some specific statements—on its administration of the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, the College Access Challenge Grant, and the Special Education Cluster Grant. The audit finds “management override of internal controls” took place in all of those programs. It finds errors in “allowable costs/cost principles” and “matching” in GEAR and Teacher Quality Partnership Grants. It finds flawed “subrecipient monitoring” in GEAR UP.
The audit finds Mid-Central had no policies or procedures to identify, stop, or prevent Scott Westerhuis, Nicole Westerhuis, Stacy Phelps, Brinda Kuhn and Lance Witte (not named in the audit, but his conflictual situation is well described on p. 11) from engaging in multiple conflicts of interest that put the integrity of the co-op at risk. Kuhn, for instance, appears to have tens of thousands of dollars for work on GEAR UP and Teacher Quality without any sign that Kuhn’s work was approved by contract by the Mid-Central board.
The auditor identifies numerous questionable costs:
$97,544.14 in GEAR UP salaries lacking proper documentation.
$4,165,185 in undocumented GEAR UP grant-matching costs (most of which consist of Microsoft software that Mid-Central claimed as its grant match but which no one interviewed says was actually used for GEAR UP).
$213,897.25 in Teacher Quality salaries and expenditures, most of which look like undocumented salary double-dips for Nicole Westerhuis and Stephanie Hubers and inadequately supported payments for the Phelps/Westerhuis American Indian Institute for Innovation and BC Kuhn Evaluation.
$1,262,131.43 in undocumented Teacher Quality grant match, money that apparently should have come from AIII, BC Kuhn, the Rural Learning Center, and Mid-Central. (Interestingly, Mid-Central appears to have squeezed more match than necessary from USD, the Region 3 educational co-op, TIE, and the PAST Foundation.)
$76,208 in unsupported Wakan Gli grant costs.
$277,874 in overstated/miscalculated indirect administrative costs to pay Mid-Central employees for work on multiple grants.
$7,837,967 in illegal withdrawals from Mid-Central’s checking account from January 2007 through September 2015, $1,388,630 of which remains unrestored. Back in Ocotber 2015, shortly after the Mid-Central scandal broke with the Westerhuis murder-suicide-arson, I found the evidence of a fair chunk of those illegal withdrawals in the Mid-Central monthly finance reports from June 2011 through March 2014.
The audit documents on pp. 24–25 the discrepancies in Mid-Central’s FY 2015 annual financial report:
In short, anyone reading Mid-Central’s financials at the end of FY2015 had no idea how much money Mid-Central really had.
The Mid-Central Board of Directors looks at all those findings and says, “Not our fault”:
MCEC takes these allegations very seriously. However, MCEC disagrees with the DLA’s finding of any alleged deficiencies. It is apparent that no amount of reasonable oversight would have detected the complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal activities conducted by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis.
…Scott and Nicole Westerhuis were Platte natives, well respected members of the Platte community, and trusted overseers of MCEC’s financial activities.
Unfortunately, Scott and Nicole Westerhuis were living outside of their financial means. As a result, they engaged in a complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal business activities using their positions at MCEC and AIII. In fact, investigators determined that the scheme devised by Scott and Nicole Westerhuis resulted in them embezzling over $1 million [Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, Response to SDDLA Special Report, 2017.05.17; in DLA audit of Mid-Central FY2015, 2017.05.19, pp. 63–64].
A minor quibble—a lot of the living outside their means was a result of the Westerhuises’ coming up with this brilliant scheme, not the other way around.
The major quibble—Auditor General Guindon isn’t saying Mid-Central needed to engage in fantastic efforts to outfox the criminal masterminds on their payroll. The Auditor General is laying out pretty basic financial expectations: manage conflicts of interest, follow grant rules, make sure every contract and expense goes through the board, and document work and expenses.
But Mid-Central lays out eleven points on the Westerhuises’ masterful, impenetrable deceit to say We didn’t know! We couldn’t know! It’s not our fault! “…[T]here is nothing that the Board could have reasonably done to prevent this complex scheme of fraudulent and illegal activities,” Mid-Central concludes, surely with an eye toward the Black Bear lawsuit seeking to take some money out of their expiring hide.
Just in case anyone still thinks someone should have been able to catch the Westerhuises and Phelps and Huber and Kuhn and other employees in this scam, Mid-Central cites [pp. 60–61the failure of the South Dakota Department of Education to implement proper procedures and controls over GEAR UP identified in the 2014 DLA audit. Mid-Central reminds us that they engaged Schoenfish and Company of Parkston to do their yearly audits (again, with an eye toward that lawsuit and their effort to shift liability to Schoenfish).
And if all else fails, Mid-Central basically shrugs off the Auditor General’s recommendations as moot:
The DLA’s Special Report provides a series of recommendations for MCEC going forward. MCEC and its Board take these recommendations very seriously and thank the DLA for its assistance. However, as of June 30, 2017, MCEC will terminate its provision of educational services to its member schools. Therefore, the DLA’s recommendations for future improvements become moot [Mid-Central, 2017.05.17; p. 67].
Millions of dollars either lost or misaccounted, and Mid-Central says, not our fault, not our problem, we’re outta here.
Predictably, Rep. Kristi Noem is finding a way to turn this week’s “National Police Week” into a political ploy. In her latest e-mail to constituents, Noem says her ride-along with Minnehaha County Sheriff’s Department justifies spending more federal money (with no indication of how she would avoid increasing the deficit) and building that boondoggle Trump wall:
Needless to say, local law enforcement does a tremendous job. We, in turn, have a responsibility to give them the support and resources necessary to be safe and successful.
It was clear during my visit that drug trafficking and use has contributed greatly to the spike in violent crimes. While South Dakota sits more than a thousand miles from Mexico, Sheriff Mike Milstead estimated that around 90 percent of the state’s meth and heroin comes from south of the border. Simply put, we need to build robust physical and technological barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border. In addition to a border wall, I’ve cosponsored legislation that would deploy up to 10,000 more National Guard personnel to the border and allow law enforcement to go after the so-called “spotters” that drug traffickers use to avert officers at the border.
But a stronger border isn’t the only thing that must be done. This week, as we mark National Police Week, the House will be voting on a series of bills that support our men and women in blue – from helping departments staff up to supporting them in acquiring new technologies [Rep. Kristi Noem, e-mail, 2017.05.16].
Noem also takes the requisite shot at Marty Jackley, repeating the FBI stat showing our violent crime rate doubling over the past decade. At the moment, Jackley doesn’t sound too worried: he is promoting the fall Aging Gracefully Expo. Then again, neither does Noem, as she closes her email by stating, “The truth is there’s no other place I’d dream of raising my family than here….”
It’s kind of tough to fly the fear flag and the rose-colored glasses in the same campaign message, but no tougher for Kristi Noem than playing a conservative Republican while proposing bigger, more expensive government.
Note that the bond on Sideras is $10,000, four times the bond slapped on Ehab Jaber. The court apparently feels that a man accused of possessing child porn is a greater threat than a man accused of making a terroristic threat.
Sideras, like all defendants in America, is innocent until proven guilty. The charges, if they have merit, do not appear to involve any public corruption that would implicate Huether or other city officials.
When it comes to the recent vandalism in Aberdeen, Tennant said, residents have no way of knowing what was going through the mind of the person who painted the symbols. There’s no context, just a swastika painted on a wall.
“It’s just plain property damage,” he said.
While the swastika has a history that’s both positive and negative, Tennant said, graffiti on the side of a building is not positive.
No context? We live in a time and place where the swastika is universally recognized as a symbol of evil. We aren’t talking about the 90-year-old pre-World War II Native American symbols worked into the brick and tile of the Hotel Alex Johnson. We are talking about some punk who wanted to torque people off. He (yes, I’m assuming young and male) could have chosen any number of other graphics to rile the public—horned demons, f-words, middle fingers, penises, doobage, peace signs, Muslim stars and crescents. Instead, Herr Schpraymeister reached for the obvious go-to symbol of racial and religious hate. Even if our graffitist is just young and stupid, the only reason the swastika echoes in his young and stupid noggin is his absorption of willingness to ape cultural expressions of bigotry. He didn’t just damage property—he spread hate.