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DCI clears Noem on state plane use investigation

Governor Kristi Noem announcing her first veto of the 2022 session on February 10
Governor Kristi Noem holding a press conference during Feb. 10 during the legislative session (file photo)

A South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation probe into Gov. Kristi Noem's use of the state airplane found no wrongdoing, officials said Tuesday.

The DCI was investigating Noem after the Government Accountability Board forwarded a complaint alleging the Republican governor broke state law by using the plane for personal use.

Hughes County State's Attorney Jessica LaMie said in a statement the DCI is closing its inquiry into complaints. LaMie took over the investigation after Attorney General Mark Vargo recused himself.

Both LaMie and the DCI concluded "there were no facts to support a criminal prosecution under current law for the use of the airplane and that the allegation regarding flight records was frivolous," according to the statement.

State lawmakers initiated the complaint last year, asking then-Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg to look into Noem's use of the plane to fly to events hosted by political organization like the National Rifle Association.

State law stipulates that state-owned planes can only be used for state business.

Noem argued she was acting as a state "ambassador" at those events. She also claimed Ravnsborg's action advancing the complaint was politically motivated. The governor had previously called for Ravnsborg to resign after he struck and killed a pedestrian in September of 2020.

LaMie said she informed the Government Accountability Board she had concluded her inquiry and referred the matter back to the board.

Ian Fury, Communications Director at Kristi for Governor, released the following statement after LaMie's announcement:

"An independent prosecutor has confirmed what we have known all along. 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. Gov. Noem did the right thing calling on him to resign, and she has remained focused on her job. She is committed to continue to fight for the hard working people of South Dakota."

Josh Chilson is the news director at South Dakota Public Broadcasting. A Florence, S.D. native, Josh graduated with a journalism degree from South Dakota State University. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and videographer, and most recently as managing editor for Dakota News Now. Josh is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.