What’s the punishment for taking an illegal state contract in violation of Article 3 Section 12 of the South Dakota Constitution? Paying back the money, with interest, and resigning immediately, say Attorney General Marty Jackley and, as of yesterday, former Senator Jessica Castleberry:
State Sen. Jessica Castleberry, R-Rapid City, will make $2,400 monthly payments over a span of 20 to 30 years to repay state government, with interest, for pandemic relief money she accepted in alleged violation of state law.
Attorney General Marty Jackley announced details of the agreement Thursday at a press conference in Pierre. At about the same time, Castleberry announced her resignation from the Legislature in an email to the media [Joshua Haiar, “Legislator Resigns and Agrees to Repay Nearly $500,000, Plus Interest in Pandemic Relief Funds,” South Dakota Searchlight, 2023.08.17].
According to the settlement posted by the Attorney General yesterday, Castleberry will write the state monthly checks for $2,309.94 until she has repaid $499,129.79, about 83% of the $603,229.79 in coronavirus relief funds that her Little Nest daycare center received. The state is forgiving about a sixth of Castleberry’s CRF, because the money didn’t benefit Castleberry herself but went to parents in need not serving the Legislature:
$499,129.79 went directly to the benefit of Castleberry and her operational costs; the balance of $104,100 was directly credited to the benefit of “income qualified” parents. Thus, in Castleberry’s case, $104,100 did in fact arrive where Congress intended it to arrive, in the hands of income qualified parents and their children, and was not part of the funds directly benefiting Castleberry and her costs of operation.
Castleberry did in fact use the portion she received, $499,129.79 for a variety of DSS approved purposes, including wages, operating costs, rent, utilities, facility modifications, and other uses as contemplated by Congress in the stimulus package known as CRF. Castleberry’s expenditures of the portion she received, were regularly reported to DSS, and in many cases expressly approved by DSS prior to the expenditure. The investigation did not reveal any abuse in expenditure of funds, and all funds were spent for DSS approved purposes; nonetheless the State concluded Castleberry could not receive the funds under Article III Sec. 12 due to her status as a State Senator [Chief Deputy Attorney General Mark Barnett on behalf of the State of South Dakota, settlement agreement with Jessica Castleberry, 2023.08.17].
The settlement did not require Castleberry’s resignation, nor does it require her to stay out of daycare. But she likely can’t afford to remain in the Legislature, because (a) she was naughty, and no one wants a naughty Senator, and (b) she’ll need to put in extra hours running the daycare to cover this big new monthly expense of paying her penance for violating the Constitution. (Maybe she can get the lawyer who she claimed told her she could legally take the CRF contract to chip in.) Per the settlement, Castleberry can even resume seeking state contracts once she has been out of the Legislature for a full year.
We now eagerly await similar settlements with and resignations from Representative Roger Chase, Senator Helene Duhamel, Senator Randy Deibert, Representative Gary Cammack, and Lieutenant Governor Larry Rhoden, all of whom have been accused by the right-wing legislators of the South Dakota Freedom Caucus of the same violations of Article 3 Section 12 that have cost Jessica Castleberry significant financial freedom and her seat in the Legislature. If Senator Lee Schoenbeck is right about more conflicts of interest just waiting to come to light, we may see a whole new Legislature when Session opens in January.