Education Secretary Melody Schopp raised my eyebrows with her claim last week that the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative scandal didn’t lose any federal GEAR UP grant money. That claim has Republican Senator Stace Nelson livid:
The burden of ongoing corruption in SD just got real for the taxpayers in Armour, Burke, Colome, Corsica, Ethan, Gregory, Kimball, Mount Vernon, Plankinton, Platte-Geddes, Stickney, Wessington Springs, White Lake, and Wolsey-Wessington School Districts! On June 29th, the “Lead Grant Partner” to MidCentral Education Cooperative (MEC), responsible for the administration, management, and oversight of the GEAR UP grants since 2005, named those schools contracted to MEC for services in its $4.3 Million lawsuit to recoup monies fraudulently misappropriated. The “Lead Grant Partner?” The SD Department of Education (DOE)!
Wait! It gets worse! DOE Secretary Melody Schopp testified before the Government Operations & Audit Committee (GOAC) on July 24th, claiming her office did a great job of managing GEAR UP over the years. Sec. Schopp claimed she didn’t have any indications of inappropriate financial dealings until 2015. Sec. Schopp claimed that independent auditors at Schoenfish accounting repeatedly cleared MidCentral as operating properly which caused her to continue to approve the contracts over the years.
The money DOE is suing school districts for? That Schopp’s office was responsible for administrating? Really isn’t missing… Maybe! Sec Schopp explained the monies are only missing if the federal government does not find out the $4.3-million massively bloated appraisals for donated free Microsoft software (a claim submitted by DOE & MEC), was an illegitimate claim. South Dakota Legislative Audit considered it illegitimate, and its been used against Phelps, and Guericke in their criminal trials by the attorney general.
The twelve years of DOE mismanaging the GEAR UP program Sec. Schopp is proud of? Approximately $60 million spent (about one quarter considered suspect by legislative auditors) to prepare Native American youth for college, with only 285 students claimed enrolled in higher education!
More bad news for the 14 school districts? A class-action lawsuit by Native American students against MidCentral naming Round’s former Secretary of Education Rick Melmer, DOE’s GEAR UP grant writer/program evaluator Brinda Kuhn, and USD GEAR UP Evaluator & South Dakota Board of Education member Kelly Duncan. They could name the districts in their suit.
U.S. history is replete with political corruption like New York’s Tammany Hall, and the Chicago Daley political machines that robbed taxpayers from within government through cronies protected from prosecution. We are seeing the same subversion of law in South Dakota for protection of cronies, in an ever brazen fashion.
Lawsuits still surround the Rounds/Daugaard Administration’s EB-5 corruption, one for $32.5 million and another against South Dakota for $18.55 million. Legislators they endorsed, and provided significant help to get elected, willingly shut the GOAC down from fully investigating. Contrary to legal precedents dating back to British jurisprudence, they claimed the legislature did not have authority to investigate state corruption or require witnesses appear to testify. In a complex scheme involving numerous state officials and $120 million missing? Not one state official was ever held accountable. It was all conveniently blamed on a man dead under mysterious circumstances, the file of which the attorney general sealed.
Ten years of millions of dollars of government corruption at the center of the mysterious deaths of four children and their parents? Again! Politically connected responsible state officials not charged, and establishment elected officials outrageously again claiming the GOAC cannot investigate or summon witnesses despite extensive legal precedents to do so (Google: Anderson v. Dunn (US 1821); Kilbourn v. Thompson (US 1880); In re Chapman (US 1897); Harriman v. Interstate Commerce Commission (US 1908); Marshall v. Gordon (US 1917); et al). Cover up or intentional incompetence?
Reports are former directors of DOE Indian Education blew the whistle to Sec. Schopp before 2011; one was fired the other was forced to leave. What will history call South Dakota’s corrupt machine? [Sen. Stace Nelson, op-ed, received by Dakota Free Press 2017.08.03]
Senator Nelson gets his next crack at questioning individuals tied to the GEAR UP scandal on Tuesday, August 29, when the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee holds its next meeting, when it may hear again from Secretary Schopp as well as her financial officer Tamara Darnall; GEAR UP grant writer, illegally contracted evaluator, and publicly silent profiteer Brinda Kuhn; and accountant and legislator Rep. Kyle Schoenfish (or is it supposed to be Kyle’s dad Randy?)