A former member of the South Dakota House was arrested Friday on charges of rape and other offenses against two girls who were his foster children, the second time in a year that the Legislature has been rocked by allegations of improper sexual conduct.
Ted A. Klaudt, R-Walker, was charged in both Hughes County, which includes the state Capitol, and Corson County, where he lives, according to Attorney General Larry Long.
Klaudt was charged with eight counts of second-degree rape, two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor, one count of sexual contact with a child younger than 16, two counts of witness tampering and one count of stalking.
The girls told law officers that Klaudt touched their breasts and vaginal areas during what he called exams for a purported scheme to have them donate their eggs to make money, Long said. At least one of the alleged offenses involving one girl occurred when she was a page during a legislative session.
"He was convincing these girls they were candidates for donation of their eggs, that this would be a significant financial advantage to them and it was necessary for him to perform these acts on the girls to determine if they would be viable candidates for the procedure," Long told The Associated Press.
Klaudt turned himself in at the Corson County Sheriff's Office Friday morning, and made his initial court appearance on the Corson County charges after traveling more than 200 miles to Deadwood, the nearest judge in the circuit, Long said.
Klaudt appeared in court in Pierre on Friday evening, and a magistrate judge set bond at $100,000 on the Hughes County charges. After the court hearing, Klaudt was taken to jail until he can make bond.
Klaudt wore handcuffs and chains during his court appearance in Pierre. As he was leaving the courtroom, he declined to comment on the charges.
House Speaker Thomas Deadrick, R-Platte, accompanied Klaudt on Friday, saying he was acting as Klaudt's lawyer only for Friday's court hearings. "I'm here as a friend who happens to be a lawyer," said Deadrick, an attorney who served four years with Klaudt in the House.
Klaudt is due to appear next in court in Pierre on May 31 for a preliminary hearing to determine whether enough evidence exists to continue the case.
The investigation started when one of the girls made a complaint that was forwarded to the state Department of Social Services, which then contacted the state Division of Criminal Investigation, Long said. The offenses allegedly occurred over several years when the girls ranged in age from 15 to 19 and were under foster care provided by Klaudt and his wife.
The two girls were among a number who were sent to foster care in Klaudt's home under a program that provides foster care for young people who have no safe home to return to after completing programs in South Dakota's juvenile corrections facilities.
The state Corrections Department announced Friday it is conducting a review of its foster care program. Juveniles who have been placed under the program are being interviewed.
A written affidavit filed in court by Long said Klaudt initially denied that he performed any "tests" on the girls, but he later changed his story after investigators confronted him with some e-mails he allegedly sent to one of the girls.
Klaudt then said "maybe I did some things I shouldn't have," the attorney general wrote in the affidavit.
Some of the rape charges carry penalties of up to 50 years in prison, the attorney general said. If Klaudt is convicted on all the charges and receives consecutive sentences, he could be sentenced to more than 250 years in prison, Long said.
Klaudt, 49, who farms and ranches near the tiny town of Walker, a few miles from the North Dakota border, was a member of the powerful Appropriations Committee during his eight-year legislative career in 1999-2006. He was vice chairman of the House Appropriations Committee in his final two years and chairman of the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee, an investigative panel, in his final four years.
He was term limited in the House last year and chose to run for the Senate in a sprawling district that covers much of northwestern South Dakota. But he lost to Democrat Ryan Maher of Isabel, getting only 46 percent of the overall vote and losing by a large margin in parts of the district that include Indian reservations.
The Senate had its own scandal recently, when Democratic Sen. Dan Sutton of Flandreau was accused of fondling an 18-year-old male legislative page when they shared a motel room during the 2006 legislative session. Sutton denied the charges.
After Sutton was re-elected, the Senate held hearings early this year and voted to publicly reprimand Sutton after some senators said the molestation charges were never proved. An attempt to expel Sutton from the Senate failed.
Sutton's censure marked the first time the South Dakota Legislature had formally disciplined a lawmaker.
Senate President Pro Tem Bob Gray, R-Pierre, said even though both cases involved pages -- high school students who run errands for lawmakers -- the Legislature is not a dangerous place for young people to work.
"If I were a parent, would this give me pause? Perhaps. What I would tell parents is this is a good program," Gray said.
The Legislature this year took steps to make the page program safer by making sure the students are staying in appropriate accommodations, Gray said.
Lawmakers, pages and other legislative employees generally work hard and stay out of trouble, Gray said. "Evidently, there are some bad people there from time to time."