Sen. Rusch Minimizes GEAR UP “Corruption” as “Employee Theft”

Republican District 17 Senator and retired judge Arthur Rusch and Democratic candidate for District 17 House Mark Winegar are having a semantic disagreement over the GEAR UP scandal. Was it corruption, or was it employee theft?

Sen. Arthur Rusch and Mark Winegar, Facebook conversation, 2016.11.06–07.
Sen. Arthur Rusch and Mark Winegar, Facebook conversation, 2016.11.06–07.

According to Attorney General Marty Jackley, former Mid-Central Educational Cooperative business manager Scott Westerhuis stole GEAR UP grant money through his office. He was an employee, and he committed theft.

But are employee theft and corruption mutually exclusive terms? I search “corruption” in South Dakota Codified Law and find two references (SDCL 3-17-6 and 9-13-30) in which corruption and theft are listed side by side and separately, as if they are distinct actions requiring distinct reference.

Yet it seems reasonable to treat corruption as a larger term that can encompass theft along with other bad behavior, or perhaps the disease of which theft is one symptom. Black’s Law Dictionary (at least the free online version; I’ll defer to Judge Rusch’s copy on his desk, if he cares to offer a counter-definition) offers a definition that fits that hierarchy:

Illegality; a vicious and fraudulent intention to evade the prohibitions of the law. The act of an official or fiduciary person who unlawfully and wrongfully uses his station or character to procure some benefit for himself or for another person, contrary to duty and the rights of others [The Law Dictionary Featuring Black’s Law Dictionary Free Online Legal Dictionary 2nd Ed., retrieved 2016.11.07].

Reaching into the till over and over again for years is illegality. Westerhuis (and, says A.G. Jackley, his numerous co-conspirators) worked hard to evade the prohibitions of the law against theft. Team Westerhuis wrongfully used their stations to procure benefits for themselves, contrary to the duty entrusted to them by the state and federal governments. And, perhaps most importantly to candidate Winegar’s point, officials in state government appear to have remained silent about warnings of this financial misconduct for six years, which, as I wrote in March, represents pervasive corruption preventing people of good conscience from speaking up to protect the rights of Indian students and taxpayers.

I wouldn’t want to be the sitting state legislator running semantic interference for the crimes of Scott Westerhuis. The GEAR UP scandal was employee theft. It also competes with EB-5 for designation as Exhibit #1 in Winegar’s and the people’s case against corruption in Pierre.

21 Responses to Sen. Rusch Minimizes GEAR UP “Corruption” as “Employee Theft”

  1. This is not simply employee theft. Let us not overlook the cronyism that was going on with former and current Education Department officials and appointees cashing in on these federal funds. The people who were supposed to be overseeing the program were cashing in on the program, and connected individuals were siphoning money for “consulting” that added little to no value for the kids who were supposed to benefit. The foxes were guarding the hen house. If the SD Dept. of Education had simply run the program the way the federal government wanted and given the kids the college money – none of it would have been stolen. Yet the SD Dept. of Education instead created a crony-based system where instead of giving the money to the kids they got to give it to cronies instead. The buck didn’t stop at the top in the Department of Education. Nobody there has been fired. And without a body count we the public would never have found out about any of this. That’s corruption in a nutshell.

  2. David Newquist

    This is preposterous, when corporations are set up for the sole purpose of channeling money from one federal grant and the money is traceable to people with connections to the Department of Education. When a former judge assumes that people will be so intimidated by his “authority” that they can be fooled into accepting an explanation of employee theft when such an elaborate scheme is exposed for all to see and and people have been indicted for it, it adds a further dimension to the corruption. Need to get a bigger basket to hold all the deplorables.

  3. mike from iowa

    The judge ends his email much the same as Drumpf and that is SAD.

  4. Donald Pay

    Organized crime is what I would call it. Organized crime requires a syndicate of people seeking to conduct illegal business which is aided or allowed by a governmental agency, usually by corruption of key government officials who are supposed to police certain activity, or, if not that, vast or purposeful incompetence.

    We ran into that with the sewage ash scam.

  5. Perhaps someone can help me with some info. I recall Rusch was appointed by Janklow to clean up a mess, but I don’t recall if it was warehouses, whorehouses, juvenile prisons, theft of state property, or whatever. I do recall a result of no convictions. Anybody remember?

  6. Leo Powell

    The programs were under the supervision of the State of South Dakota and obviously poorly supervised or SD had a role of some sort. I have to wonder why a State Senator is so willing to pass this off as a bad employee.

    Money is lost, people are dead and families and innocent people have suffered. If I were the supervisor or had a role in this as a legislator I would not take this so arrogantly. I assume a judge prefers to judge not be judged

  7. Douglas Wiken

    Rush is demonstrating that he is a part of the systemic corruption that pervades the SD GOP establishment. It has turned from systemic good governance to a taxpayer-funded crime syndicate. Rush is part of the problem no matter how legally smart he thinks he is.

  8. This is employee theft like the Titanic had an incident with an ice cube.

  9. *Titanic

  10. Let’s forget the semantics. Either those charged with oversight of GEAR UP, EB-5, and who knows what else failed miserably. Some say corruption while others say theft but what is clear is there are far too many incompetents in government. Let’s see what the people have to say tomorrow.

  11. Consult like a license I bet,

  12. And our great honest Governor doesn’t hold anybody accountable in his office.

  13. Roger Cornelius

    Exactly Mark, call it what you want, theft, corruption, pick-pockets, whatever it all comes down to taking what isn’t illegally yours.

    The republican semantics argument is a smoke screen in an attempt to show the amount of corruption in state government. Fixing republican corruption can’t be done simply by changing words.

  14. Donald Pay

    The discussion has to come around to ideas popular with Paul Ryan and othes in Republican circles that deregulation, devolving power to states and block grants to states are going to be an effective way to address issues. South Dakota has provided a cautionary exhibit against these ideas. Unless the swamp at the state level can be drained, there is no reason to assume devolving power to the states would result in anything but massive fraud and corruption.

  15. mike from iowa

    One site sez Rusch was appointed by Guv Dale Miller.

  16. Roger Elgersma

    lots of good points here.\

  17. Douglas Wiken

    Donald Pay makes a point worth serious consideration. The feds may be clumsy, etc., but they have a lot of experience controlling corruption (or employee theft even). The states are too open to corrupt influence. Giving states more power at the expense of federal government is a license to rob the treasuries of state and local governments.

  18. Mark, what will voters say tomorrow? Have we worked hard enough to raise the conversation about corruption? Will voters connect the dots and elect new legislators who might challenge corruption?

  19. We’re all hoping you are one of them!

  20. Nick Nemec

    Boy, Judge Rusch gets a little condescending with his “legal expert” crack at Candidate Winegar. With a bunch of shell nonprofits each skimming off a fee and employing a list of the usual suspects for high wages at no show or nearly no show jobs it sure looks like corruption. The original Federal grant would have done far more good providing college scholarships to hard working Native kids.

  21. Indeed, Nick, I found Rusch’s condescension surprising. I thought he was a more moderate legislator than that.