SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — The ball has moved to Attorney General Mark Vargo’s court. 

Yet, the AG’s office says it hasn’t received anything from the Government Accountability Board. On Monday, the GAB said it would refer a complaint that Gov. Kristi Noem flew on state-owned airplanes to political events to the attorney general’s office for further investigation.  

“As of yet, the Attorney General has heard media reports, but has received nothing from the GAB itself,” Mark Vargo, who was appointed by Noem in June, said in an emailed statement. “No decision concerning the immediate progress of the referral can be made until the referral is received.”

KELOLAND News reached out to the AG’s office about Sioux Falls lawmaker Jamie Smith’s call for Vargo to step aside regarding the complaint against Noem. Smith, the Democratic nominee for governor, is challenging Noem, a Republican, for the governor’s office. 

Smith said he believes Vargo has been put in an awkward spot by the GAB sending a complaint back to the attorney general’s office. Former Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg sent two complaints against Noem from his office to the GAB. The first complaint was about Noem’s use of the state airplane which was sent to the GAB in September 2021.  

“It’d be much better to have somebody that’s not a part of that system do this,” Smith told KELOLAND News Wednesday. “I’m not doing this in a partisan way at all. The Speaker of the House (Republican Spencer Gosch) also called for this. This is a nonpartisan ask.” 

The Noem campaign has said the GAB hasn’t pointed to a single law Noem has violated and has denied any wrongdoing. 

When asked what law Noem broke, Smith responded he didn’t know. 

“I don’t know if she broke one. That’s what this investigation is supposed to find,” Smith said. “I do know that we as South Dakotans would like to know where the airplane is going. It’s not a personal airplane. It’s the state’s airplane and it should be used for state business.” 

The complaint against Noem’s use of the state plane dates back to 2019 when Noem used the state plane to travel to the National Rifle Association conference, a meeting of the Republican Jewish Coalition at a Las Vegas casino and other trips deciphered by author Daniel Newhauser for the media outlet Raw Story. Newhauser published the flight logs and compared them with Noem’s social media posts. 

In that story, Noem defended her use of the state planes as she was representing the state as “South Dakota’s top ambassador.” 

Smith said he’s not worried about the investigation becoming too political and said he’ll await Vargo’s next move on the state-plane complaint. 

“I want the attorney general to do what he deems right in the situation,” Smith said. “To move forward in a judicious manner and as quickly as possible so we can get this cleared up.” 

Along with sending the complaint back to the AG’s office, the GAB determined “appropriate action” could be taken for Noem’s involvement when the Department of Labor and Regulation denied her daughter’s appraiser license application in 2020. 

The GAB does not have its next meeting scheduled.

Sponsors of the bill passed in 2017 to create the GAB told KELOLAND News it is doing what they wanted it to do.

Senator Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls) said lawmakers may need to remove some of the constraints on the GAB allowing the former judges a chance to use their better judgment.