Saturday, January 28th, 2023
Saturday, January 28th, 2023

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Sportsmen Since 1967

S.D. guv’s brother among people agent investigated

By Kevin WosterRapid City Journal

Rapid City, S.D. (AP) – A week before Gov. Mike Rounds targeted
federal game warden Bob Prieksat for removal from his job, Prieksat
was investigating a case of illegal waterfowl processing that
involved one of the governor’s brothers.

Tom Rounds, a banker in Pierre, was not charged in the case that
Prieksat opened in early February. But Rounds was on a list of at
least 15 people – including an agent for the state Division of
Criminal Investigation, a former state Game, Fish & Parks
Department licensing supervisor, and the son of the current
GF&P assistant wildlife director – who had geese processed by
Jim Suedkamp of rural Pierre.

About a week after Prieksat and GF&P conservation officer
John Murphy finished the initial stage of the Suedkamp
investigation in early February, Rounds went public – through chief
of staff Rob Skjonsberg – with his campaign demanding that FWS
officials fire Prieksat or reassign him to another state.

Skjonsberg also ordered GF&P conservation officers to stop
working with Prieksat, except in special instances approved by
GF&P Secretary Jeff Vonk.

Gov. Rounds confirmed last Friday that his brother was among
those investigated by Prieksat in connection with the Suedkamp
case. But Rounds said he wasn’t aware of the investigation until
weeks after Skjonsberg went public against Prieksat.

Asked Friday whether he was motivated by the Suedkamp case to
take action against the agent, Rounds said: ‘Absolutely not. I did
not know anything about it, but I’m sure someone would like to
suggest that I did.’

Many rumors have circulated in the Pierre hunting community
since the sequence of events in February. Neither Prieksat nor his
supervisor, Gary Mowad of Lakewood, Colo., would comment for this
story. The Journal constructed many of the facts of the case
through off-the-record interviews with knowledgeable sources and
confirmations from people involved.

Suedkamp eventually paid a $425 fine for illegally receiving
untagged waterfowl.

Al Jockheck, former licensing supervisor for GF&P and
currently part-time employee there, wouldn’t comment Friday on the
case in general. But he confirmed that he also paid $425 for
leaving untagged waterfowl with Suedkamp.

Others, including Tom Rounds, who had waterfowl processed in a
similar manner, were not charged. The list included Chad Mosteller
of Pierre, a DCI agent and son of Col. Dan Mosteller, head of the
South Dakota Highway Patrol; Andy Vandel, son of GF&P assistant
wildlife director George Vandel of Pierre; and Mike Jockheck, Al
Jockheck’s son.

Suedkamp didn’t return a telephone call left Friday at his home.
Chad Mosteller didn’t return a call left with a co-worker at DCI.
George Vandel said he wasn’t involved in the Suedkamp case and did
not intervene with the governor or Skjonsberg in any way.

When Skjonsberg went public with the case against Prieksat, he
accused the agent of bullying tactics that angered members of the
public and tainted the image of GF&P conservation officers.
Skjonsberg said then that his action came from a history of abuse
by Prieksat, not a particular case.

Rounds said Friday he wasn’t aware of the Suedkamp case until he
was asked by the Journal during a March 1 interview whether he or
any members of his family had been involved in law-enforcement
issues with Prieksat. Rounds said at that time he wasn’t personally
and wasn’t aware of any such cases with his family.

The governor said Friday that he raised that question with his
brother sometime after the March 1 interview and that Tom Rounds
confirmed he had been investigated in the Suedkamp case but had not
been charged.

‘That was the only conversation I had with my brother on that
particular issue,’ the governor said. ‘And I let it go at that.
Because I figured if I was going to fight this thing, I’d keep it
at arms’ length as much as possible.’

When asked when his chief of staff learned of the Suedkamp
investigation involving Tom Rounds, the governor referred the
question to Skjonsberg. At 6 p.m. Friday, Skjonsberg hadn’t replied
to two Journal e-mail inquiries on that point.

During the March 1 interview with the Journal, Rounds also said
that he thought he had met Prieksat but wasn’t sure if he ‘could
pick him out on the street.’

Friday, however, the governor said he had recently been reminded
by his wife, Jean, that they had lived in the same neighborhood as
Prieksat for a number of years.

‘She said, ‘I think you know him. He and his wife lived four or
five doors around the corner,” Rounds said. ‘And I said: ‘Oh, my
gosh, I know the face. I now put the face with the name. I’ve also
seen him at the Y. I’ve just never had a run-in with him with a
uniform on.

‘Without a uniform, he’s a very nice person,’ Rounds said.
‘Clearly, with the uniform, there’s a change in personalities that
doesn’t fit the person without the uniform.’

Prieksat doesn’t wear a uniform while on duty, but he has still
become a recognizable presence known in South Dakota’s hunting
community for his hard-nosed law-enforcement style. A former
GF&P conservation officer who was honored as the agency’s best
in 1985, Prieksat has been with the FWS in Pierre since 1995.

In recent years, he has been involved in a number of
high-profile wildlife cases. They include a 2003 investigation of
then-GF&P Secretary John Cooper – Prieksat’s former mentor and
predecessor as FWS law-enforcement supervisory agent in Pierre –
for a Black Hills elk hunt that October.

The South Dakota U.S. attorney’s office decided not to file
charges in that case. But in January of 2004, Skjonsberg, Rounds,
and Cooper took their complaints to Mowad, who has called Prieksat
one of his top agents. Cooper had been angered by the investigation
and, during an interview with another FWS agent, threatened to end
GF&P involvement with Prieksat and limit law-enforcement work
with the FWS.

Rounds said, however, that Cooper didn’t ask him or Skjonsberg
to take action against Prieksat and that their meeting was about
many past complaints.

After the meeting in 2004, there was little communication
between the governor’s office and Mowad until Rounds authorized
Skjonsberg to go public against Prieksat last February. Rounds said
he had become increasingly troubled by the number of complaints
about Prieksat and his negative impact on GF&P officers.

Pierre guide and wild-game processor Caleb Gilkerson joined the
anti-Prieksat chorus in February, saying he was mistreated during a
December investigation in which the federal agent was also assisted
by GF&P officer John Murphy.

Gilkerson contested the charges of possessing untagged geese but
was found guilty by a federal magistrate in Pierre after a March 22
trial.

After his first public statements against Prieksat, Skjonsberg
solicited comments and complaints about the agent. That produced
more than 60 signed complaints and 700 signatures supporting his
removal.

Rounds said that was an example of the widespread unhappiness
with Prieksat that led him to act.

‘There is not a single case which stands out,’ the governor
said. ‘It is a preponderance of the evidence that we have a bad
apple. And there’s a whole bunch of other people getting bad
reputations because of that bad apple.’

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