South Dakota Attorney General recuses himself from investigation into Noem complaint

Mark Vargo, who was appointed by Governor Kristi Noem to his post in June, has recused himself from an investigation into Noem’s potential misuse of state owned airplanes.
FILE - South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 25, 2022.
FILE - South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem speaks in Orlando, Fla., Feb. 25, 2022.(AP Photo/John Raoux, File)
Published: Sep. 9, 2022 at 1:19 PM CDT
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PIERRE, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - Attorney General Mark Vargo has referred one of two ethics complaint against Gov. Kristi Noem to a different office in Pierre, following concerns of a potential conflict of interest.

Hughes County State’s Attorney Jessica LaMie will now lead the investigation into the complaint, according to a release issued by Vargo Friday. Vargo recused himself the same day that his office received official notice the complaint would be sent back to them.

The Government Accountability Board (GAB) voted to send the complaint to the Attorney General’s office for further investigation during an August meeting.

“The Division of Criminal Investigation will promptly review and investigate this matter,” an official release from the Attorney General’s office said. “Gov. Noem appointed Attorney General Vargo to his post in June. In order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Attorney General Mark Vargo has requested that supervision of the investigation and any charging decisions will be undertaken by Jessica LaMie, Hughes County State’s Attorney.”

Hughes County State's Attorney Jessica LaMie. Hughes County is the home of Pierre, South Dakota.
Hughes County State's Attorney Jessica LaMie. Hughes County is the home of Pierre, South Dakota.(JOHnny Sundby | Submitted)

The complaint, filed by former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg, alleges Noem violated state law in the way that she used state owned airplanes. Allegations of that misconduct came to light after a story written by Raw Story in 2021 detailed several instances of potential misuse by Noem. The South Dakota Government Accountability Board previously considered the complaint, and voted to advanced it to the Attorney General’s Office for further review.

Vargo was appointed by Noem after Ravnsborg was removed from office for his role in a crash where he struck and killed a pedestrian. A bipartisan group of state lawmakers had previously asked Vargo to recuse himself from the investigation due to his appointment to the office by Noem.

The second ethics complaint, related to Noem’s involvement in her daughter’s attempt to get an appraisal licenses, was partly dismissed and closed during the same GAB hearing. Parts of that complaint were made public Friday.

The Attorney General’s office said that they would not comment further on the matter, nor release any reports or evidence regarding the allegations, until the investigation was complete.