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Select Cmte: Sex with Interns Unethical; Nelson Questions GOP Leaders’ Handling of Wollmann

The House Select Committee formed to discipline former legislator Mathew Wollmann for having sex with interns met for 23 minutes today. Since Wollmann spared them most of their work by resigning yesterday, the Select Committee agreed that having sex with interns violates Joint Rule 1B-1, declared the matter over, and dissolved itself. Wollmann did not attend, nor did any of the 2015 and 2016 Legislative interns invited to testify.

Folks who think that action ended the South Dakota Legislature’s sex scandal should tune in to The Greg Belfrage Show on KELO Radio  tomorrow (Wednesday) morning at 8:05 a.m., when Belfrage will interview Senator Stace Nelson about who knew what when.

Senator Nelson will likely answer questions about e-mails posted today by KELO Radio’s Todd Epp that suggest House leaders last year received multiple written complaints about a legislator’s improper conduct toward interns:

For the attention of the AG and for the record with House leadership, the following information is provided as written documentation of information already passed to several of you in person which I received from former interns who served in the House in 2015.

Two former interns reported the suspect legislator in fact knowingly gave alcoholic beverages to a known minor in 2015 on at least one occasion. One intern reported that he allegedly engaged in kissing and fondling of an intern, allegedly in front of at least one other, who was so intoxicated the intern opined the young intern may not have been sober enough to consent to the contact. To be clear, interns identified 2 interns he (the legislator) had consensual sexual intercourse with in 2015, another different one he groped while she was extremely intoxicated, and another one that he sexually harassed and outraged when he was caught trying to “get with” multiple pages. The interns indicated he was texting them constantly through out (sic) the day trying to “get with” the female interns.

Several House leadership members confirmed that written complaints were received by House leadership members, last year, allegedly alluding to the sexual contact with interns and pages , (sic) and when the one intern was extremely intoxicated. . . [Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Legislative leaders, Attorney General Marty Jackley, and LRC Director Jason Hancock, 2017.01.19; in Todd Epp, “Legislators Likely Knew in 2015 That a Member Was Having Sex with Interns,”, 2017.01.24].

Nelson’s statements here about Wollmann’s misconduct being known before this year’s Session fit with former Speaker Dean Wink’s statements to KSFY yesterday:

Just after Wollmann’s announcement, KSFY News spoke with Former House Speaker, Dean Wink, who had been out of state for the last week. Wink told KSFY News reporter Erika Leigh that he became aware of Wollmann’s relationships with interns back in 2015, after receiving an unsigned letter that appeared to have come from an intern.

Wink says he confronted Wollmann then, but the former legislator denied the allegations. The former House Speaker said he believed him, despite the whispers that resurfaced again near the end of the 2016 session.

“I asked Rep. Wollmann to come to my office and discuss the content of the letter, and [we] agreed that dating interns is completely inappropriate and out of bounds for all the obvious reasons,” Wink explained.

“I basically asked him and at that time he denied it, and I took him at his word” [Erika Leigh, “State Reps: Time to Get Back to Work,” KSFY, 2017.01.23].

A January 20 e-mail from Senator Nelson to his legislative colleagues casts Wollmann’s on-camera confession to KSFY reporter Bridget Bennett as something less than a spontaneous act of conscience:

Reporter(s) stated they have been working on this for an extended period of time based off of complaints they received last year which they discussed with leadership (NFI). TV news reporter explicitly told me to relay to a legislator whom she believed made a misstatement of fact in describing the timeframe he became aware of this misconduct, that the suspect legislator of this misconduct “lied” when confronted, and only confessed to (limited aspects) the misconduct when she advised him that she was in possession of a taped interview with a former intern.  It is my understanding that interview is extensive,  confirms everything contained herein, and much more [Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Legislature and A.G. Jackley, 2017.01.20].

Wollmann’s lie, followed by his fatuous observation about his experience in film-making, already cast his confession in a bad light. If the information about the taped intern interview is true, then it appears all the clearer that Wollmann was ready to keep lying, as former Speaker Dean Wink claims Wollmann did when confronted about accusations of sexual misconduct in 2015, until faced with the cold hard fact that someone had finally spoken up to stop him.

Finally, correspondence between Senator Nelson and House Speaker G. Mark Mickelson indicate the nature of the deeper scandal here, the possibility that Republican leaders did not adhere to their own rules in handling Wollmann’s misconduct. Senator Nelson apparently shared accusations about Wollmann’s misconduct with Speaker Mickelson prior to the airing of Wollmann’s confession on KSFY. Speaker Mickelson responded with this letter on Tuesday, January 17, the day before the Wollmann story went public:

Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, letter to Senator Stace Nelson, 2017.01.17.
Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, letter to Senator Stace Nelson, 2017.01.17.

Senator Nelson responded by e-mail Wednesday morning, seven hours before KSFY posted the Wollmann story:

I am in receipt of your request which runs directly contrary to the explicit provisions of the Joint Rules of the SD Legislature.  I am forwarding you LRC’s official response of how these allegations were supposed to be handled when they were first brought forward to House leadership over the last two years, and how they must be followed now.

It greatly concerns me that you are purposely inserting yourself into a situation in which you have such an obvious  conflict of interest which would clearly require you to recuse yourself.

#1 Legislative rules required all legislators aware of this misconduct to report it.  Reports from legislators expressly indicate that leadership received timely complaints over the last two years, and did not follow the Joint Rules in handling the complaints that they received.  In doing so, they themselves violated the ethical standards and requirements of our legislative rules.

#2 It has been pointed out to me that you were a significant contributor to the suspect legislator’s re-election campaign despite reputedly having the corporate knowledge of these allegations.

Your request is duly inappropriate in that it violates the due process rights of the accused explicit in the requirements of our Joint Rules; it inappropriately attempts to assume authorities not granted you by statutes or rules and it clearly subverts the authority of your fellow House members who collectively share the responsibility to investigate this reported misconduct under the Joint Rules of the SD Legislature;  AND, it violates the due process rights of the victims of this misconduct who deserve(d) to have this misconduct thoroughly and impartially addressed in a timely fashion required under our Joint Rules.

…In closing, I have been told by more than one person that House leadership stated that Nelson made all of this up and brought the rules change as a vendetta to harass the suspect legislator and his fiancé.  That comment, in light of the above information, convinces me that this is an extension of the efforts to cover this matter up and protect the legislator your own colleagues have called a “sexual predator” [link added; Senator Stace Nelson, e-mail to Speaker G. Mark Mickelson, 2017.01.18].

House Majority Leader Lee Qualm brought his motion that afternoon to convene a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion. Speaker Mickelson named the nine members of the committee the next day.

Wollmann is gone; Senator Nelson says a deeper problem remains. Senator Nelson is saying that his fellow Republicans let Wollmann’s broadly known misconduct go unchecked for two years until public revelations made further inaction untenable. Tomorrow morning, Senator Nelson will make that case to KELO listeners, who so far seem strangely willing to condone both Wollmann’s misconduct and the Legislature’s inaction.


  1. Jenny 2017-01-24

    Buying alcohol to minors, groping and kissing interns while they’re drunk and texting them all day sounds like the definition of a sexual predator to me. Glad he’s gone.

  2. Rorschach 2017-01-24

    Am I correct in surmising from earlier comments that Wollmann’s now fiance was in high school and serving as a page in 2015? Interesting. Very interesting.

  3. David Newquist 2017-01-24

    Your last remark gets at the real problem with corruption and unethical behavior: the ultimate responsibility rests with the voters. The people they elect to office expresses their values and applies them to governance.

  4. leslie 2017-01-24

    Wollman is apparently a 26 yr old Marine.

  5. grudznick 2017-01-24

    Former Marine. Just like Mr. Nelson. No more honor.

    I ask the question that will eventually be asked. When do the others get brought out and if it can be shown that Mr. Nelson knew about them will he be ousted? It seems a fair question.

    Also, is Mr. Nesiba any part of all this groping?

  6. Roger Cornelius 2017-01-24

    You can hope all you want grudz, but Reynolds Nesiba’s name has not been brought up in any of the charges or the discussion here.

  7. grudznick 2017-01-24

    Stace giggling. Stace giggling.

  8. Tim 2017-01-25

    “KELO listeners, who so far seem strangely willing to condone both Wollmann’s misconduct and the Legislature’s inaction.”

    And this is the problem with SD in general, the majority of voters are tuned out or just don’t care, the results of 40 years of single party rule?

  9. Jenny 2017-01-25

    And look at SDs golden boy, Mark Mickelson, trying to quickly sweep it under the rug and not follow the Joint Rules.

  10. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-25

    Ror, you are correct. Also, Chairman Johns and Director Hancock said in the hearing that Wollmann’s sexual misconduct involves three female interns. I have yet to hear any firm indication that Wollmann engaged in improper sexual contact with any page during Session. Wollmann has known his fiancée since they were kids in Madison and indicates he began his romantic relationship with his fiancée after the 2016 Session, which suggests no foul there.

    Grudz, as Roger says, Nesiba has nothing to do with the proceedings in Pierre and likely nothing to do with the discussion Senator Nelson will have on the radio this morning.

    David, Tim, Jenny—bingo. We need voters to put down their partisan pom-poms and connect plainly unethical conduct with political consequences. When any legislator runs interference for a legislator engaged in sexual misconduct with interns, that legislator should be tossed out.

  11. Dana P 2017-01-25

    If this is all true, and I have a feeling it is, the legislature looking the other way or giving tacit approval to this conduct is just as egregious as Wollman’s conduct. (if this had been nipped in the bud early on, it might not have happened to others)

    Another thing that stood out to me was “giving alcohol to a minor” and sexual relations with a minor that was so intoxicated the consent was questionable. Um – those allegations should have at the time triggered a CRIMINAL investigation. Not just a “we’ll let leadership know”. And I would think that now that those allegations are being made public, the statute of limitations has not expired.

    Jeezuz…..what is going on in Pierre? (of course, don’t we ask that question many times?)

  12. Rorschach 2017-01-25

    If Wollmann’s activities had been reported before the election he would have lost. The GOP Party circled the wagons around him because they saw him as a rising star. Not only did they overlook what he was doing – they covered for him. Just like other scandals – EB5, Gear Up – we would have never found out about this, but for something happening that made it past the GOP Party coverup and got to the news media. Fortunately only a political career died this time. Makes one wonder how many cover ups are successfully carried out by our one-party government.

  13. Rorschach 2017-01-25

    Just to be clear, the scandal here isn’t just that Wollmann serially stalked interns working for the legislature he served in and serially lied about it, it’s also the coverup of his activities perpetrated by legislative leadership.

  14. Troy 2017-01-25

    I’m at a loss on what was improper about newly elected Speaker’s letter.

    Senator Nelson made verbal charges (none of which he witnessed) in private to Speaker Mickelson. Seems appropriate on both ends.

    Speaker Mickelson asked this former law enforcement officer to document all that he knows and how he knows it. This documentation would allow the investigators to go to Nelson’s sources (and maybe their sources if needed) to get closer to actual witnesses.

    Would we want an investigation into potential wrong-doing go any different?

    Sidenote: Speaker Mickelson was one of the members who voted for Senator Nelson’s rule to make sexual contact (even if consensual) between Members and Interns/Pages specifically prohibited.

  15. Jenny 2017-01-25

    You should be at a loss and totally disgusted on how a GOP legislator can get away with this conduct for years before it takes a whistleblower to do anything about it, Troy.
    Don’t try telling us that Mickelson didn’t know of any of this behavior happening before Stace took charge.

  16. Dicta 2017-01-25

    WHEREFORE porn is a public health scourge, we will discuss it and not one of our own putting his penis into impressionable students.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-01-25

    I’m at a loss to explain how Speaker Wink hears about accusations of misconduct, goes to Wollmann, asks, “Did you do it?” hears “Nope!” from Wollmann, and decides that all he’s obliged as Speaker to do.

  18. Francis Schaffer 2017-01-25

    Maybe the ‘Boston Globe’ should come in and shine their ‘Spotlight’ on the situation

  19. Francis Schaffer 2017-01-25

    Does anyone know if an intern could bring a federal civil action against the legislature?

  20. Darin Larson 2017-01-25

    Can you say Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO)?

  21. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-01-26

    Francis, I don’t know my federal law, so I couldn’t say for sure. I also lack confidence in the Trump/Sessions DOJ to take sexual harassment seriously.

    A quick glance at EEOC guidance suggests an intern would have to demonstrate the sexual harassment resulted in some tangible adverse employment action:

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