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Education
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District: At least $4.8 million needed for school building improvements

The Rapid City Area Schools Board of Education held a sobering study session meeting Monday night, eyeing necessary building improvements for next year's budget.

"If this project is not to be completed, would it prevent us from opening school in the fall?" Assistant Superintendent Dave Janak said his facilities team asked of each pending project.

What school officials call the "no-choice list" measures just shy of $5 million — measures like stabilizing a rusting floor at Canyon Lake Elementary School, roof repairs to South Middle School, and an emergency power generator at West Middle School.

The only item on Janak's list that wouldn't prevent its school from opening is a $300,000 cover and redesign for the orchestra pit at Stevens High School. The reason it's on the list?

"A year ago, that pit was open, and a theatre student fell in and became pretty seriously injured," Janak said. "It's on the list. We may have pending litigation outstanding if we don't fix this thing."

No vote will be taken on these projects — paid by the school board out of its capital outlay or reserve budget — until May. However, many projects will require bids and design well in advance. Janak said in previous years he never brought a detailed expense report to the board but a dwindling capital-outlay budget — used to prop up teacher salaries in recent years — made him change his mind.

"Because of limited resources, it's important for the board to hear this firsthand," Superintendent Lori Simon said.

Board member Christine Stephenson echoed a tension many on the board feel about competing demands of staff pay and the upkeep of buildings.

"We have hard decisions to make about pay versus buildings," Stephenson said. 

While the district has a list exceeding $200 million in potential repairs and renovations on the district's schools, the $4.8 million represents the absolute necessary items. Other project upgrades the district will likely move on in the next year include converting fire panels from analog to digital at Horace Mann Elementary and new piping at Knollwood Elementary School.

"It's like finding a mechanic for your '07 Ford," said Kumar Veluswamy, facilities services manager. "It's getting tough to find those parts."


Local
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PETA ads put Rapid City Regional Airport on defensive

A PETA advertising campaign is ruffling feathers at Rapid City Regional Airport.

Six banners featuring a pig or turkey with the phrase "I'm me, not meat" arrived Friday at the airport, dotting arrivals and baggage areas. On Monday, the airport sent out a press release — and has posted disclaimers on closed-circuit television screens at the airport — standing by the equal opportunity policy of the ad campaigns.

"We just want a level playing field," Rapid City Regional Airport Executive Director Patrick Dame, who confirmed Monday the airport has received criticism for the ads on its Facebook page.

One critic that contacted the airport and the city is the South Dakota Stock Growers Association. On Monday, the organization that has its headquarters in Rapid City sent out a press release of its own with the headline, "Disappointing Sign!" It  criticized the airport's management for accepting the advertising.

"We thought it unfortunate that the Rapid City airport would bow down to this kind of advertising," said James Halverson, executive director of the SDSA. He said the cattle industry is a $4 billion concern in the state.

"And that's not including sheep, pigs and turkey," he said. "Animal agriculture is the backbone of our state's economy."

The airport confirmed PETA's advertisements — which also say "See the Individual. Go Vegan." — were purchased for a month. A spokesperson for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) said they chose the holiday travel season for higher visibility. 

"We often see an uptick in interest in vegan and plant-based items, such as a vegan Tofurkyafter we run these campaigns," said Ashley Byrne, associate director with PETA. 

PETA says similar ads have been placed up around the country leading up to Thanksgiving, including in Minneapolis, Boston, Las Vegas, Houston and Denver.

On Monday afternoon, the Brunners of Newell waited by the departure gate to see off their daughter. 

"We were wondering what we could put between us and the banner," said Bruce Brunner, who later referenced bringing animals out of the cold by putting them on his plate as a beef steak.

"We're not against vegetarians or anything," Colleen Brunner said. "We just don't think the ad campaign is going to do much out here."

South Dakota's ag products industry is on display this week as two turkeys — named Peas and Carrots from Huron — are to be pardoned by President Donald Trump at the White House.

Waiting for his daughter to return from Florida, Eric Remboldt, of Rapid City, sat with his wife and younger daughter near one of the pig advertisements.

"At least it's not one of those graphic depictions with blood on it," he said. "It could be worse."

The airport has an approval process for advertisements and reserves the right to reject advertising that violates advertising policies adopted last year by the Airport Board. Nudity, tobacco products, political and violent images are prohibited, among other strictures, the airport said in a press release. Moreover, as a recipient of $2.1 million in federal grants, the airport cannot discriminate against potential advertisers based on a number of categories.

"We consulted with city legal to make sure we're trying to make the best decisions in terms of free speech," Dame said.

A spokesperson for the airport said Monday the airport receives around 1 percent of its annual budget from advertisements. This year, the airport has taken in approximately $76,500 in advertising dollars, which is a boost of nearly $20,000 from last year. Currently, ad campaigns at the airport feature everything from roulette wheels to reptiles, according to the airport.

By Monday afternoon, disclaimers on screens at the airport near PETA's banners read: "Advertising sold in the airport is not a reflection of the views or opinions of the airport. Equal opportunity is applied to all of our advertisers."


Crime-and-courts
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Prosecutor: Teens used stolen gun in fatal shooting

The two teens involved in the fatal shooting of a Rapid City man in August used a stolen gun, a prosecutor said Monday in court. 

That information was revealed when Ross Johnson, a 16-year-old from Black Hawk, appeared at the 7th Circuit Court in Rapid City for a status update on his case.

He is charged with aggravated assault and aiding and abetting a second-degree murder for his role in the homicide of 43-year-old Nathan Graham.

The weapon used in the killing was reported as stolen to law enforcement, Sarah Morrison, Pennington County deputy state's attorney, told the Journal.

In court, Morrison cited that point to ask Judge Robert Mandel to keep Johnson's bond set at $1 million cash only. She said he had previously threatened Graham and told a 14-year-old suspect to shoot him. Morrison also said Johnson has a juvenile record, has been behaving badly in jail, and that the victim's widow did not want a lower bond. 

Matthew Skinner, Johnson's defense lawyer, asked Mandel to lower the bond to $25,000. He said his client wasn't the shooter and needed to start saving money to pay court fees and restitution. 

Mandel rejected Skinner's request. 

Johnson had also written a letter to Mandel asking him to lower the bond so he can be with his family during the holidays before he is sentenced, court records show. Johnson, who said his sister recently died, wrote "it hurts so bad to know I'm putting a family through he same pain I just went through."

A family friend also wrote to Mandel, mentioning the death of Johnson's sister and him going through other difficult family issues in recent years. 

Though Johnson is technically a juvenile, the severity of the charges against him means he is automatically tried as an adult, according to SDCL 26-11-3.1.

Skinner is able to ask the judge to try his client as a juvenile but no such request has been filed, according to court records. Johnson is due back in court for a hearing at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 19. 

Graham died Aug. 18 after being shot in the head outside a home on the 200 block of East Philadelphia Street in Rapid City the day before, according to the probable-cause affidavit.

A 14-year-old turned himself into police and admitted to shooting Graham after Johnson instructed him to do so, the affidavit says. Due to the alleged shooter's age, his name and the charges against him are not public record. Prosecutors have the chance to make a motion requesting the 14-year-old also be tried in adult court.  


Crime-and-courts
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Lottery winner admits to scamming friends of more than $1 million

Kelly Lhotak thought she was helping a close friend struggling with unending problems with the IRS when she agreed to loan her more than $622,000 over a 16-year period. 

But Lhotak, a 54-year-old who lives near Rapid City, later learned that she was among the six victims of a California woman who scammed more than $1 million from them after already winning more than $5 million in the California lottery. 

"My heart is broken. I have had the worst betrayal of a friendship that anyone can ever experience," said Lhotak, who moved to the area in 2002. 

Judy Lynn Carroll, a 59-year-old from El Cajon, California, pleaded guilty at the federal courthouse in Rapid City last week to four counts of wire fraud and one count of tax evasion after admitting she scammed Lhotak and five others.

"It's been a long time coming, and she deserves punishment for what she did for several victims," Lhotak said. 

Carroll was originally charged with 35 counts of wire fraud, but that original indictment was dropped as part of her plea deal. 

Each of Carroll's wire-fraud counts carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison while the tax-evasion charge can carry a punishment of up to five years in prison. The prosecutors agreed to recommend a sentence within the range of Carroll's sentencing guideline, the plea agreement says. 

Carroll also is expected to pay a total of $1.55 million in restitution, according to the plea deal. Of that, $622,236.01 is for Lhotak and $618,000 is for five other people she scammed. 

The remainder of the restitution money, $310,078, will be paid to the IRS and represents tax loss from Carroll's unreported gross income over a period of 17 years. 

Carroll and her husband won $5.2 million in the California lottery in 1989, which was to be paid out over a 20-year period, according to the statement of facts document signed by Carroll. She met Lhotak in the mid-1990s when they were neighbors in El Cajon, a city in California’s San Diego County. 

Starting in November 2000 and continuing until October 2016, Carroll schemed Lhotak out of $622,236.01 by telling her the IRS froze all her assets and she owed the agency money, the document says. However, the IRS only once, in 2007-2008, froze and took a levy from Carroll's accounts. She also once said she needed money to help her husband, falsely claiming that his identity was stolen.

Lhotak asked Carroll in 2003 why the IRS issue hadn't been resolved. In late 2006, she asked her friend to provide proof of her financial situation, the document says. In both cases, Carroll provided false responses to Lhotak's question.

Lhotak said she didn't doubt Carroll's stories until she called the IRS in October 2016 to ask if her friend owed tax liens. The agency said she didn't. She said that call prompted the IRS to launch an investigation. 

"I did it because I loved her with all my heart," Lhotak said of why she loaned money to Carroll.

To protect yourself from a similar scheme, she said, "My advice would be to continue to love other people just as you always have. Trust but verify" what they say. 

Carroll also received $618,000 by conducting similar schemes with five other people, the statement of facts document says. Her tax-evasion charge stems from attempting to evade $310,078 in taxes since 1999. 

During the Nov. 16 sentencing hearing, court records show that Magistrate Judge Veronica Duffy agreed to let Carroll stop wearing an ankle monitor, which she was required to wear as part of her conditions of release after being arrested by the FBI in Montana on Oct. 12, 2017.