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Former trooper convicted of $70K thefts steps down as school board president, stays on board as member

PLATTE -- A former Highway Patrol trooper who admitted to taking nearly $70,000 in evidence money has stepped down as president of a local school board, but some community members want him to leave the board entirely.

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Brian Biehl, 48, of Platte, right, listens Monday at Platte-Geddes High School in Platte as Tim Whalen, of Lake Andes, not pictured, asks him to resign from the Platte-Geddes school board after he admitted to taking thousands of dollars of evidence money during his time as a South Dakota Highway Patrol trooper. Biehl announced Monday he intended to step down as the board's president but intended to stay on as a member. (Jake Shama / Republic)

PLATTE - A former Highway Patrol trooper who admitted to taking nearly $70,000 in evidence money has stepped down as president of a local school board, but some community members want him to leave the board entirely.

Brian Biehl, 48, of Platte, declared his intent to step down as president of the Platte-Geddes School Board on Monday at the start of a board meeting held at the high school library. But Biehl hopes to remain on the board as a member. His term as board president was set to expire June 30, 2018. Superintendent Joel Bailey said the board accepted Biehl's decision during an executive session and appointed Steve Spawn as president.

Last week, Biehl pleaded guilty to grand theft by law enforcement by keeping $69,668 confiscated from drug searches during his time with the South Dakota Highway Patrol, though he said he intended to return the money.

Forty-five community members attended, Bailey said, and three, Jess Sondgeroth, Monte Wagner and Tim Whalen, spoke up during the meeting to tell Biehl he should step away from the school board entirely.

"When Brian stole the money, he lost the opportunity to continue doing good things from this board," said Whalen, an attorney based in Lake Andes. "That puts you in a position where you're unable to do the things you once wanted to do."

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Biehl is set to be sentenced for the theft charge in March. The maximum penalty is 10 years in prison and a $20,000 fine, but even if he avoids prison time, Whalen said he could still become ineligible to be a board member.

Whalen said Biehl should step down no matter what, and Whalen has already contacted the state's attorney to remove Biehl if necessary.

"Those wheels are already turning, so it's inevitable that you're going to be removed from the board. It's just a matter of when," Whalen said. "Nothing good comes from fighting this battle."

Sondgeroth and Wagner spoke to The Daily Republic after the meeting and said they consider Biehl to be a friend, but they, too, thought he should step down.

"We've got too many black eyes in our community as it sits right now. We need good things to happen, and having him on there is not good right now," said Wagner, branch manager for Bank of the West in Platte and Corsica.

Despite the grand theft charge against the school board president, Sondgeroth said faith in the Platte-Geddes School District remains high.

"There is no doubt in the Platte-Geddes educational school system," Sondgeroth said. "I've lived here since 1999, and the school system is one of the reasons my wife and I decided to stay here and raise our kids."

Related Topics: THEFT
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