Senate Majority Leader Gary Cammack may have been drinking and driving, but at least he didn’t hurt anybody. His son Chris appears to have scammed us taxpayers out of a million dollars in coronavirus relief money:
Chris Cammack owns Prairie Mountain Wildlife Studios, a business he started more than a decade ago in a building on the Cammack family ranch in Union Center, a town of 400 in Meade County.
Cammack received $709,792 in state coronavirus relief funds in early 2021 to cover losses he reported at the Union Center business during the pandemic. Cammack also received more than $300,000 in forgivable Paycheck Protection Program loans from the federal government to keep 10 workers at the Union Center location employed.
However, a News Watch investigation using tax and property documents, source interviews, website information and a public statement from Chris Cammack indicates that Prairie Mountain Wildlife Studios is run from a site in Cypress, Texas, where Cammack owns a 7,300-square-foot studio building and he and his wife Felicia own an $880,000 home.
Prairie Mountain Wildlife Studios was merged with Brush Country Studios of Cypress, Texas, in late 2014 or early 2015, and Chris and Felicia Cammack now own and operate the combined Brush Country/Prairie Mountain business in Cypress, according to the company website and Texas property records.
The taxidermy studio in Union Center still exists, but a nearby business operator, Brian Walker, said there had been no recent commercial activity there. News Watch visited the site three times in 2021 and saw no activity or people present. Sen. Cammack, in an interview, told News Watch that his son’s taxidermy studio is located in Texas [Bart Pfankuch, “Questions Arise over Covid Grants Received by State Senator’s Son,” South Dakota News Watch, 2021.10.11].
Pfankuch finds Chris Cammack on the record testifying to the fact that he moved his family and his business to Texas. Cammack fils phoned that statement in to Cammack père and the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee Dad was chairing on March 3, 2020, when Chris spoke in favor of a bill favoring non-resident landwoners with special hunting licenses:
Cammack told the committee that his South Dakota taxidermy business “outgrew” the Union Center location and that he and his wife were doing so much taxidermy work in Texas that “we ended up purchasing a taxidermy shop in Houston, Texas, which is where we reside, where our home mostly is now,” according to an archived tape of the hearing.
Cammack added: “I still own cattle, I still own land in South Dakota, I still come back to South Dakota every chance I get, but work calls me to Texas.”
Cammack testified that the non-resident hunting bill, which passed and was eventually signed into law, would help him keep family ties to South Dakota [Pfankuch, 2021.10.11].
Good grief: Governor Kristi Noem outsourced the distribution of our federal coronavirus relief dollars to the consultants at Guidehouse on the premise that private actors could somehow take care of public money better than public employees. All we got for our $10 million contract (now up to $11M, Pfankuch reports separately) with Guidehouse was delay and error, which we’re paying another private contractor, Eide Bailly, $980,000 to track down. Now we find Guidehouse let money meant for South Dakota go to a guy not even doing business in South Dakota who just happens to have an important parent in Pierre. I sense a pattern here.
It sounds like when the Government Operations and Audit Committee gets done looking at the Governor’s intervention in her daughter’s real estate appraiser certification, Chairman Kyle Schoenfish will need to turn his committee’s attention to a full audit of Guidehouse’s management of our coronavirus relief dollars.
And since this is federal money we’re talking about, it sounds like the younger Cammack could end up hearing from federal auditors as well.