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Castleberry resigns; will pay back nearly half a million dollars in relief funds

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(The Center Square) – South Dakota Sen. Jessica Castleberry resigned from the Senate Thursday and has agreed to pay back $499,000 in federal dollars the attorney general said were inappropriately received.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said Castleberry’s receipt of the funds for her Rapid City preschool business were prohibited, as Castleberry was overseeing the funds.

Castleberry will pay $2,390.94 each month, which includes the federal interest rate, according to an agreement reached with her and the attorney general’s office.

“The investigation further determined that an additional $104,100, that has not been included, passed through directly to qualified needy families and their children, and not to the benefit of Senator Castleberry,” Jackley said. “The investigation did not reveal any abuse in Senator Castleberry’s expenditure of the $603,229.79 in funds, and all funds were spent for DSS approved purposes.”

Gov. Kristi Noem requested an investigation last month after learning the Department of Social Services recognized the senator’s name on a grant application to receive $4,000 for Castleberry’s Little Nest Preschool. A review turned up more than a dozen payments since 2020.

Castleberry said at the time the investigation was announced she received legal advice before applying for and receiving the funds. She resigned Thursday, shortly after Jackley’s news conference.

“The Attorney General’s office conducted a thorough investigation into this matter and I am glad speculation from other state departments and the executive branch regarding my ethics and intentions can be laid to rest,” Castleberry said in an email. “I was humbled to be appointed and honored to be elected. Thank you for the opportunity to serve the people of the state of South Dakota.”

Noem will appoint someone to serve out Castleberry’s remaining term. The governor appointed Castleberry to the senate in 2019. Castleberry was reelected to her post in 2022. Her term ends in 2025.

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