SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley has requested that Republican District 35 State Sen. Jessica Castleberry repay more than $600,000 in COVID relief money for a preschool she owns in Rapid City.

Jackley said Castleberry could not accept COVID relief money while she served in the Legislature, according to a Thursday joint news release from Gov. Noem’s office. The State Supreme Court ruled in 2020 that such payments to elected officials were illegal.

Castleberry said in her own news release on Thursday that she consulted with independent counsel before applying for COVID-19 money. “Upon several occasions, I communicated directly and transparently with DSS (Department of Social Services) staff regarding grant applications,” Castleberry said in her release.

Republican Sen. Jessica Castleberry.

Jackley said in a letter to Castleberry, included in the news release, that if the $600,000 is not paid in full or if an agreement is not reached by 1 p.m. on Aug. 7, his office intends to pursue the matter in court.

“I am committed to resolving the issue with the State and will work with them to ensure I acted in compliance with the State Constitution,” Castleberry said in her release.  

Castleberry was appointed by Noem to fill the term of Lyndi DiSanto who resigned in 2019. Castleberry served during the 2020 session. She was formally elected in 2022.

“Jessica is an accomplished businesswoman and a proven public servant. Her background and experience have prepared her well for this position, and I’m confident she will be a strong voice for the people of District 35,” Noem said in 2019.

It was Noem who drew Jackley’s attention to the COVID money. Noem sent a July 25 letter to Jackley which said the state’s Department of Social Services discovered payments to Little Nest Preschool after an application for $4,000 in money had been denied.

Noem asked the AG to investigate possible constitutional and statutory violations committed by Castleberry. A copy of the letter written by Noem to Jackley says that as the owner of Little Nest Preschool LLC in Rapid City, Castleberry applied for and received more than $600,000 in COVID-19 relief money. Noem outlined her constitutional and statutory concerns.

Noem said in her letter to Jackley that Castleberry received more than a dozen COVID-19 relief payments since 2020. She also cited that Castleberry voted on federal stimulus funds in 2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023.