South Dakota attorney general calls on lawmaker to repay more than $600K in COVID-19 relief funds

Jul 27, 2023, 4:30 PM | Updated: 5:42 pm

South Dakota’s attorney general called on a state lawmaker Thursday to repay more than $600,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding she received for her preschool business.

Attorney General Marty Jackley gave fellow Republican state Sen. Jessica Castleberry, of Rapid City, 10 days to return the money she accepted for Little Nest Preschool, which she owns.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Jackley cited a 2020 South Dakota Supreme Court advisory warning state lawmakers that it is unconstitutional for them to accept federal pandemic funding.

“The Supreme Court has expressly forbidden such payments to legislators,” Jackley wrote to Castleberry.

Gov. Kristi Noem has said Castleberry violated the state constitution by accepting the pandemic aid.

“The Supreme Court, could not have spoken more clearly, or on point to this issue. The Senator has a personal and ethical obligation to avoid conflict of interests,” Noem had written in an earlier letter to the attorney general.

Castleberry said she believed her company was eligible for funding after speaking with a lawyer. She said she “communicated directly and transparently” with Social Services staff regarding her grant applications.

“I am committed to resolving the issue with the State and will work with them to ensure I acted in compliance with the State Constitution,” Castleberry said in a statement.

Noem had asked the attorney general to investigate Castleberry after a state Social Services Department staffer recognized Castleberry’s name on a recent $4,000 grant request, which was denied. A review by the agency turned up more than a dozen other payments to Castleberry’s preschool.

Castleberry was appointed to a vacant state Senate seat in 2019 and continues to serve.

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South Dakota attorney general calls on lawmaker to repay more than $600K in COVID-19 relief funds