South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley called State Senator Jessica Castleberry of Rapid City Thursday to repay more than $600,000 in federal COVID-19 relief funding she received for the preschool business she owns.
Jackley gave Castleberry, a fellow Republican, 10 days to return the money she accepted for Little Nest Preschool.
Jackley isn’t accusing Castleberry of anything illicit or criminal; he’s simply saying that the South Dakota Supreme Court warned lawmakers in 2020 that the state constitution bars them from accepting federal pandemic funding.
The issue came to light when a South Dakota 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 applications to Castleberry’s preschool that had been approved and paid.
Governor Kristi Noem then asked Jackley to investigate, writing that “The Supreme Court could not have spoken more clearly or on-point to this issue,” and adding that Castleberry has a personal and ethical obligation to avoid conflict of interests.”
Castleberry has said she believed her company was eligible for funding after speaking with a lawyer and that she “communicated directly and transparently” with South Dakota Social Services staff about her grant applications.
She’s now issued a statement saying she’s “committed to resolving the issue with the State and will work with them to ensure I acted in compliance with the State Constitution.
Castleberry was appointed by Noem on the last day of 2019 to fill the State Senate vacancy created when Lynne DeSanto resigned in the midst of difficult divorce and moved to Montana.