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Ethics board votes to subpoena Noem airplane investigation documents from DCI

After the Division of Criminal Investigation on Oct. 25 said there were "no facts' to support a criminal prosecution of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem in relation to misuse of a state airplane, the issue was kicked back to the ethics board where it originated. Before taking the matter any further, the Government Accountability Board voted unanimously to issue a subpoena in order to review the documents from the DCI's investigation.

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The Government Accountability Board, made up of four retired judges, opens its Nov. 14 meeting. From left: Gene Kean, Chair Lori Wilbur, David Gilbertson and Vice Chair David Gienapp. Gilbertson recused himself from the portion dealing with the Noem complaint.
Jason Harward / Forum News Service
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — At the Government Accountability Board’s first meeting following an announcement from the Division of Criminal Investigations that Gov. Kristi Noem would avoid criminal charges for potential misuse of the state airplane, the ethics board voted unanimously to subpoena these documents in order to make their own judgment on the matter.

“The board had previously requested but has not received the DCI investigative report relating to 2021-04,” David Gienapp, a former judge and the board's vice chair, said after the board discussed the matter privately in an executive session at their meeting on Nov. 14. “In order to fulfill our responsibilities under Chapter 3-24, I would move we authorize a subpoena for the investigative report.”

The statutes governing the ethics board allow it to issue subpoenas.

The ethics board referred Complaint 2021-04, which deals with potential misuse of the state airplane, to Attorney General Mark Vargo on Sept. 9, 2022. The board asked the Division of Criminal Investigation to look into whether Noem had violated state law by attending certain out-of-state events using the state plane.

In a press release sent Tuesday, Oct. 25, Hughes County State’s Attorney Jessica LaMie wrote there were “no facts to support a criminal prosecution under current law” and “no basis to pursue these matters further.”

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LaMie was placed in charge of the probe after Vargo, who was appointed by Noem, recused himself from the investigation.

State law explains that if “an investigation does not reveal sufficient facts to support a criminal prosecution, the Division of Criminal Investigation shall refer the matter back to the board for the board's consideration.”

The board, after considering these materials, may call a contested case hearing if a majority of the members believe there is “sufficient evidence” to believe Noem has “engaged in misconduct.” As he has at every Noem-related meeting so far, David Gilbertson, a former chief justice on the South Dakota Supreme Court, recused himself from the discussion.

The original complaint alleging that Noem had misused the state airplane was recommended to the Government Accountability Board by former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg. The accusations originally stemmed from a 2021 article in the online publication Raw Story.

“This was nothing but a political attack in retaliation from a disgraced attorney general who killed a man, lied about it and tried to cover it up," Ian Fury, the communications director for the Noem campaign, wrote in a statement after the DCI’s conclusion.

The airplane probe was one of two public ethics complaints faced by Noem during the lead-up to her attempt at a second term as governor.

Other than approving minutes from their previous meeting that said the matter is “closed…subject to the board’s discretion to open the file,” the ethics board did not address the second of these complaints, which related to potential abuse of office by Noem in trying to secure an appraisal license for her daughter.

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Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or jharward@forumcomm.com.

Related Topics: KRISTI NOEM
Jason Harward covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at jharward@forumcomm.com.
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