South Dakota Supreme Court Upholds Bertram Murder Conviction and Life Sentence

Picture Courtesy of Mitchell Daily Republic

Attorney General Marty Jackley announced that the South Dakota Supreme Court has affirmed the first degree murder conviction and life sentence without parole of Russell Ray Bertram, a former law enforcement officer, for the shooting death of his fiancée Leonila Stickney.

“The South Dakota Supreme Court has unanimously upheld the jury’s guilty verdict in this 2009 death case that could have likely gone unsolved but for the hard work of investigators and prosecutors,” said Jackley. “Bertram’s callous disregard for his fiancée Leonila was evident and he is being held responsible for her tragic death.”

The South Dakota Supreme Court rejected all of Bertram’s claims. The evidence revealed that even though Bertram was in bankruptcy and had debt exceeding $100,000 he purchased two life insurance policies on Leonila’s life totaling $920,000 with himself as the sole beneficiary. The jury also heard about his sexual encounters with other women immediately prior to Leonila’s death. The State argued all this evidence was relevant to Bertram’s motive for killing his fiancée and the Court agreed.

Bertram was convicted by a Gregory County jury in September 2016 and was sentenced to life without parole for first degree murder.

Statewide Youth Business Plan Competition Celebrates 10th Year with Most Entries Ever

This year the statewide business plan competition, a part of the annual Lakota Nation Invitational (LNI) that takes place every December, celebrated its 10th year with 33 competitors – nearly double last year and more than any other previous year. The participating students represented White River, Red Cloud, Little Wound, Lower Brule, St. Francis, Todd County, and Cheyenne Eagle Butte High Schools.

Sarah Keefe from White River High School won the top prize – a $1,000 scholarship – as the 1st Place Award in the Senior Division for her funeral home business idea. She will also have the opportunity to receive a $2,500 equity injection from Lakota Funds, a community loan fund on the Pine Ridge Reservation that sponsored the event. The equity injection would be paired with a business loan to support Keefe in starting her business.

“Sarah was really well spoken, assertive, and confident. She was extremely well prepared, and you could tell that she thought about every detail,” says Yolanda Clifford, a loan officer at Lakota Funds, who helped coordinate the event. Clifford was especially impressed by the environmentally friendly burial options that Keefe included in her plan.

Other winners of the competition included: Paige LeBeouf from White River High School with a 2nd Place Award in the Senior Division; Sam Grimshaw from Todd County High School with a 3rd Place Award in the Senior Division; Maia Taranto from Todd County High School with a 1st Place Award in the Junior Division; Arvish Bhinder from Todd County High School with a 1st Place Award in the Sophomore Division; and Wohpe Bull Bear from Red Cloud High School with a 1st Place Award in the Freshman Division.

“With each passing year, the contestants are getting more business savvy and becoming more aware of business and entrepreneurship. It’s great to see the level of fine detail into developing their plans is growing every year,” says Clifford.

Business ideas presented in the competition included a funeral home, taxi service, gym, livestock services, various restaurants, and more. All competitors were required to deliver a presentation to a panel of four judges that evaluated entries on several criteria, including market opportunity, management and operations, and financial projections. This year’s judges were: Jennifer Bear Eagle, an attorney for the Oglala Sioux Tribe; Denton Fast Whirlwind, an artist and small business owner; David Kelly, Director of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Department of Transportation, and also an entrepreneur; and Bud May of the Oglala Sioux Tribe Economic Development Office, and a long-time rancher.

This year’s LNI business plan competition was sponsored by Citi Community Development, Lakota Funds, and the Oglala Sioux Tribe Office of Credit and Finance.

Farmers Ride on Rose Parade Float

South Dakota Farm Bureau President Scott VanderWal and former SDFB board member Phil Hamburger of Gettysburg, S.D., joined 98 other farmers to ride on a float in the 100th Annual Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1 from Pasadena, Calif.

“Salute to Farmers” is the theme of the float sponsored by Ag PhD of Baltic, S.D. The float is one of only 18 commercial floats in the Rose Parade and checks in at 110 feet long, 18 feet wide and 30 feet high. A total of 100 farmers will ride on the float, and that will be the largest number of people on a float in Rose Parade history.

“This is a great opportunity to highlight agriculture in front of a very large audience,” said Scott VanderWal, SDFB president. “It is a special honor that this is the 100th Annual Parade and we have just celebrated 100 years of South Dakota Farm Bureau. Opportunities like this don’t happen every day!”

South Dakota Activates the “Blue Alert” System

Attorney General Marty Jackley announced the State of South Dakota has added the Blue Alert system to their statewide notification systems. A Blue Alert is activated when there is a suspect at large who has killed or caused serious injury to a law enforcement officer or if an officer has been abducted or is missing.

“Anyone who seriously harms or kills law enforcement officers in the line of duty poses danger to all”, said Jackley. “The Blue Alert system will allow quick distribution regarding safety information and details about a subject to the citizens in the State.”

The Blue Alert system uses the existing Amber Alert network to broadcast warnings. Partners in this system include the South Dakota Bureau of Information and Telecommunications, South Dakota Public Broadcasting, Central South Dakota Communications and the Division of Criminal Investigation. We would also like to recognize the Rapid City Police Department for their work in advocating the need for this statewide system.

The activation of the Blue Alert comes at the request of a law enforcement agency that is investigating an offense against a law enforcement officer. The following criteria must be met:
1. An individual has threatened a law enforcement officer with a deadly weapon, has used a deadly weapon against a law enforcement officer, has caused a law enforcement officer to suffer serious bodily injury or death, or the officer has been abducted or is missing while on duty;
2. The individual has fled the scene of the offense and there is sufficient descriptive information of the suspect, including any relevant vehicle and license tag information available for broadcast;
3. The law enforcement agency investigating the offense has determined the individual poses a threat to the public or other law enforcement personnel; and
4. Dissemination of available information to the public may help avert further harm or assist in the apprehension of the suspect.
1302 E. Hwy 14, Suite 1  Pierre, SD 57501  605-773-3215

The current state notification systems include:

 South Dakota Amber Alert Plan- Statewide notification to South Dakota law enforcement and South Dakota media to disseminate specific details to the public to assist in locating an abducted child.

 Endangered Missing Advisory (EMA) – A partnership between law enforcement and local broadcasters who notify the public about missing and endangered persons. It is designed for those instances when a missing person does not meet the criteria for an AMBER Alert.

PUC Watching Federal Tax Plan Progress and Effect on Rate Payers

While the nation’s eyes are on federal tax reform, South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission is eyeing the effect the proposed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act will have on consumers of regulated electric and natural gas utilities.

Regulated utilities pass the costs of federal income taxes through to ratepayers. The revised federal tax proposal, which includes changes to corporate income tax, is anticipated to take effect Jan. 1, 2018. PUC Chairperson Kristie Fiegen this week requested the PUC staff begin evaluating how each of the state’s six investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities will reflect those tax changes in the rates paid by utility customers.

“Consumer protection is among the PUC’s top priorities,” Fiegen said. “If companies will experience a reduction in taxes, the expectation is those savings should flow to consumers.”

Fiegen expects that analyzing the effect the tax plan will have on each regulated utility will be a complex and time-consuming process. “Once the details of the tax reform are made clear, the PUC will move with all haste to ensure ratepayers will be paying no more than what they should,” she stated.

Action by the PUC regarding utility rates will be conducted through official, docketed processes. The docket related to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act can be viewed on the PUC’s website at, Commission Actions, Commission Dockets, Gas & Electric Dockets, 2017 Gas & Electric Dockets, GE17-003 – In the Matter of Staff’s Request to Investigate the Effects of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on South Dakota Utilities.


Stay Safe Over the Holidays

December is National Drunk and Drugged Driving month. Remember to use a designated driver to get home safely. If you are under 21 years of age, do not drink alcoholic beverages. Possessing and/or consuming an illegal drug in South Dakota is illegal. If you are legally taking prescription medication, read the safety label. Side effects of prescription medication can often impair an individual. Driving a motor vehicle while impaired is illegal in South Dakota.

Christmas is just around the corner and that means an increase in holiday traffic. It is easy to get distracted thinking about the errands you have to run, which gifts to buy, and holiday travel plans. Your safety is the South Dakota Highway Patrol’s top priority as well as my priority. I ask that you focus on the priorities at hand. If you are driving, then pay attention to the road. Weather changes, reduced daylight hours, snow, freezing rain, blizzards, and animals coming onto the roadway are things to be aware of. Try to refrain from using your cell phone while you are driving. Driving with snow or frost covering your windows is a violation of the law. Take the time to clear all of your vehicle’s windows of the morning frost for optimal visibility.

Take the time to think about and plan for the upcoming holidays. For those of you traveling over the holidays, take a moment to check the weather forecast before departing on a trip. Be prepared for roadside emergencies such as a fully inflated spare tire and tire changing tools, food, water, warm clothes, and a blanket. Remember to bring your cell phone and charger. You do not want to be a stranded motorist without the proper equipment. Use equipment such as seatbelts and child safety seats properly. Ensure you and your family arrives at your destination safely.

I wish everyone a safe and Merry Christmas. Take the time to enjoy life, family, and friends. Be Smart. Be Safe. Stay Alive.

Trooper Justin Schmiedt
South Dakota Highway Patrol

Gov. Daugaard Approves FirstNet Opt-In For South Dakota

Gov. Dennis Daugaard has given approval for the establishment of a public safety broadband network that will provide South Dakota’s first responders with advanced communication technologies. The new wireless broadband network will be built, operated and maintained by FirstNet using AT&T’s existing infrastructure as a foundation.

“We deal with our fair share of severe weather and natural disasters in South Dakota. Our first responders need to have access to communication technologies that work whenever and wherever needed,” Gov. Daugaard said. “FirstNet will create a single, interoperable system across our state to aid first responders in protecting citizens.”

FirstNet was established by Congress in 2012. The decision on opting in is left to each governor and states participate at no cost.

Local entities will be able to choose whether or not to subscribe to the services. AT&T has yet to announce specific rates for those wanting to participate, but says that they will establish a highly competitive pricing structure for public safety entities.


Fascinating Facts about New Year

1 England didn’t adopt January 1 as New Year’s Day until 1752, more than 150 years after Scotland. Before that the year began on March 25, the feast of the Annunciation.

2 The first French Republic changed its calendar in 1793, fixing New Year at the autumnal equinox. Thirteen years later, Napoleon reinstated the Gregorian calendar now in general use.

3 Over a quarter of the globe’s population celebrate the Chinese or lunar new year. The Year of the Rabbit will begin on February 16. This is a time to repay debts, make sacrifices to gods, and distribute ‘lucky money’.

4 The ancient Egyptians, Chinese and Romans all celebrated New Year on different days. Even within western Christianity, the day has drifted, with Christmas Day, Easter Day and March 1 and 25 all popular. Because the festival was linked to the pagan event of Saturnalia, early Christians called for the New Year to be marked by prayer, fasting and ‘humiliation’.

5 The most emotional New Year’s Eve party is at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, where hundreds of thousands toast the reunification of Germany.

6 In Papua New Guinea, villagers mark the New Year by banging drums and burning bamboo sticks.

7 In Islamic countries, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, partying will be subdued during Ramadan. Israel, meanwhile, observes the western New Year, but there is a Jewish New Year in September.

8 India, which is 82 per cent Hindu, opts for the international New Year on January 1. Tamil, Sikh and Punjabi New Years are independent celebrations on different dates. And Nepal will celebrate between April 17 and 18.

9Thailand will hold unofficial celebrations on January 1. The ‘formal’ celebrations in April feature a national water fight.

10 Ethiopia won’t celebrate New Year until September 11. The country has stuck to the old Julian calendar, which fails to reflect the true length of the year.

State of South Dakota Warns Consumers of Fictitious Auto Transport Company

Attorney General Marty Jackley and Department of Revenue Secretary Andy Gerlach are warning consumers to be aware of a fictitious auto transport company by the name of Quay Shipping that claims to be physically located in Pierre, South Dakota.

“Consumers whom are being targeted are those buying vehicles via private sale and looking for a shipping company for delivery. The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Office has received several calls from victims outside of the state who have hired this company and some have lost thousands of dollars, said Jackley. “Quay Shipping has no physical presence in Pierre and the purported address does not exist” said Jackley.

The scam website initially posted was This webpage has been shut down, but a new website is now showing up at All indications show that these sites are originating out of country.

The South Dakota Department of Revenue’s motor vehicle division has received inquiries regarding the legitimacy of several vehicle titles displayed by this website. The department urges consumers to take caution when reviewing titles associated with this website. If you have questions regarding the legitimacy of a South Dakota vehicle title, contact the motor vehicle division by phone at 605-773-3541.

Anyone who has fallen victim to this scam is encouraged to contact the Consumer Protection Division in their state.

South Dakota Stockgrowers Applaud Decision on Trucking Regulations, Urge Senators to Find a Long Term Solution

SD Stockgrowers Association applauded the decision made Monday by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to issue a 90-day waiver of new trucking mandates for trucks hauling livestock. The new regulations are set to go into effect on December 18 and require ELD’s to be installed in all commercial trucks. The require truckers to take regular breaks, limits the length of their drives and allows law enforcement to access those driving records on demand.

“We’re thankful that the agency is going to pull back on this regulation and take another look at it,” said SD Stockgrowers President Gary Deering. “We appreciate that they’ve listened to public pressure and delayed its implementation. We hope they can find a more permanent solution to regulations around trucking livestock.”

The South Dakota Stockgrowers also sent letters to Senators John Thune and Mike Rounds urging them to join with others in the U.S. Senate to delay the requirement for electronic log devices (ELD) to be used by livestock haulers beyond the 90-day waiver.

According to the letter sent Tuesday, Deering said, “We believe that the mandate should be lifted for a full year to take the pressure off our industry and give the agency time to find an appropriate, long-term solution for the livestock industry.”

“We are very concerned that without some adjustment, the new regulation will seriously impact the health, safety, and wellbeing of the livestock animals in our care.”

“These new regulations will result in situations where animals are offloaded and reloaded numerous times causing biosecurity concerns, are forced to stand in trailers without access to food and water, and have significant delays in delivery time. While we appreciate the need to ensure safety of trucks on our nation’s highways, the nature of hauling live animals requires more flexibility and consideration than the current mandate allows. When applied to livestock industry, the current regulations are impractical and inhumane.”

The Senate is considering legislation that would allow the ELD mandate to be implemented for all commercial trucks, but not require livestock trucks to use the technology until December of 2018.

Deering said, “The 90-day extension is a start, but a one year delay will give everyone time to find a workable solution to make sure our livestock trucks are safe on the highway without endangering the livestock that they’re hauling.”

A public comment period on the delay is open until November 30 and the public can submit comments by visiting and searching for “NPPC Electronic Logging Device”.