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Guest Column: Stace Nelson Enraged at GEAR UP Corruption, Schopp Dissemblage

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)!

Sen. Stace Nelson
Sen. Stace Nelson (R-19/Fulton)

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?)


  1. Dana P 2017-08-03

    Could not agree with Mr Nelson more. He has totally hit the nail on the head here.

    Also, he has helped contribute to a Billie Sutton campaign speech. This is exactly what Sutton is talking about.

  2. jerry 2017-08-03

    Mr. Nelson is onto the scheme. If you say a lie when you testify in a public forum like Melody did, people listening take that as the truth. Melody has been listening to trump for too long and thinks that lies and damn lies do not matter in public service, they do. Good work Mr. Nelson, good work.

  3. Roger Cornelius 2017-08-03

    Excellent commentary, Stace.
    It is no wonder why Powers at the Dump Site hates you so much.

  4. shelaker 2017-08-03

    $60 million for 285 students? That’s over $200,000.00 per student. Wow.

  5. Rorschach 2017-08-03

    Here’s a news flash. If they didn’t actually spend $4.3 million on software but the $4.3 million isn’t there … It’s missing! And whoever told the federal government that they spent $4.3 million on the software submitted a fraudulent claim.

    Here’s the least funny joke you will hear today:

    How do you prepare 285 students for college? Give the State of South Dakota $60 million.

    Bonus unfunny joke: What do you get when you give the State of South Dakota $60 million? 285 college kids who don’t have their education paid for, and a couple dozen happy Republican cronies.

    Where’s the money?

  6. Rorschach 2017-08-03

    For all of those Republicans pushing blocks grants for one thing or another, this is exactly what block grants get you. Corruption + unfulfilled objectives.

  7. Jeff Barth 2017-08-03

    For more than 100 years the “Great White Father” in Washington DC has sent wagons of supplies, cash and Federal programs to help our Native neighbors and… Little or none has reached the people. Those resources have been diverted, stolen, evaporated or misspent.

    Stealing those Federal funds has been a cottage industry in South Dakota since before statehood.

  8. Jenny 2017-08-03

    Shopp’s statement that Mid-Central didn’t lose any grant money just sounds like something her lawyer or the State’s lawyers told her to say.

  9. jerry 2017-08-03

    Mr. Barth, that is a solid truth. In Jackson County, one of the worst ones of the bunch as far as race goes, the ratio is about half and half. If not for voter suppression, Jackson County may well be on its way to being budget neutral instead of being broke as a joke. They have complained that the southern part of the county is reservation so no one pays and that is why they are broke. Why does Mellette County with 52% Native seem to be doing much better? Jackson County has an interstate running through it with several successful tourist venues in Kadoka, Interior and the 1880 Town along with a couple of KOA Kampgrounds, Buffalo Gap Grasslands, a National Park and yet they are broke. Why is that? It seems the Great White Father’s there have fallen on their collective arse’s. Much easier to blame a straw man like Indians for the problems than to actually find solutions to the problems. By taking less money than what it really takes to make it run, they show how poorly they understand basic arithmetic and only understand corruption and suppression of the will of the people. Sara Frankenstein figured them out rather quickly.

  10. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2017-08-03

    Jackson County and the rest of us all need to throw out the existing corrupt regime and elect leaders who’d rather solve problems than chase old bogeymen and pad their pockets.

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