Corn Palace nominee once faced theft accusation

Farm Forum

MITCHELL, S.D. (AP) — The man who had been in line to be the next director of Mitchell’s Corn Palace tourist attraction was accused in 2002 of misappropriating money from a family business.

Steve Koch, 50, was charged with three felony counts of misappropriation of funds by a contractor, but he ended up pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge of first-degree petty theft as part of a deal with prosecutors, The Daily Republic reported ( ). Koch was sentenced to two years of probation and ordered to pay more than $45,000 in restitution, court records show.

Mayor Ken Tracy had said he would recommend that the City Council hire Koch for the Corn Palace job, but Koch withdrew his name from consideration on Friday. Tracy said a city background check turned up the information about Koch’s past legal troubles, but that he decided to offer him the position anyway.

“He has paid his debt to society, so to speak,” Tracy said. “In my own opinion, most people should be allowed to be given a second chance.”

The mayor said he did not know whether the 2002 incident played a role in Koch’s decision to withdraw his name.

“It somewhat came out of nowhere,” Tracy said. “I’m disappointed. I thought that we had that position filled and was looking forward to moving forward with a new director.”

A home telephone listing for Koch is disconnected.

Koch was to succeed Mark Schilling, who abruptly stepped down in March after 13 years as director. Tracy had asked Schilling to resign following a state audit that found several policies and procedures weren’t being followed. Schilling told The Associated Press after he quit that he didn’t think he had done anything wrong.

The Corn Palace, which is undergoing a $7.2 million renovation project, bills itself as the world’s only palace dedicated to the grain. About 200,000 tourists visit each year.