Backed into a corner, Dan Nieland plans to keep swinging. With last week’s announcement that a federal grand jury has charged Nieland’s wife, 47-year-old Leesa Marie Parkhill-Nieland with Social Security fraud, the Polk County candidate met with members of the Jasper County Democratic Party at an emergency meeting Monday night.
In an emotional speech, Nieland admitted he failed to inform party members of the allegations his wife was facing, something he said was a mistake.
“Hindsight is 20/20. I should have said something,” Nieland said.
According to federal prosecutors, Parkhill-Nieland allegedly received Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits from about December 2012 until about April 2018. The indictment states during this time, Parkhill-Nieland was self-employed through two different businesses, Pine Hollow Stables — a business she operated with her husband Dan Nieland — and Coat of Many Colors. The federal government claims Parkhill-Nieland concealed and failed to disclose that employment from the Social Security Administration in order to continue to receive payments.
Nieland told party members he didn’t disclose the information because he believed the information wouldn’t come out during the campaign, an assertion Dennis Parrott, Jasper County Auditor, sharply challenged.
“So, nobody was aware of this until now,” Parrott asked.
“No,” Nieland replied.
“You didn’t feel like it rose to the point where you at least ought to have let us know before we gave you $11,000?” Parrott asked.
“That’s a good point, and if you want, I’ve got my checkbook in my back pocket right now,” Nieland said.
In an interview following the meeting, Jasper County Democratic Party Chair Michelle Smith said while Nieland was vetted, there wasn’t enough time for a lengthy research process. During the meeting, Nieland described the process.
“We met, we talked, they said what do you do, where did you go to school, that kind of conversation,” Nieland said. “It was a 15-minute conversation.”
Smith said the party’s options were somewhat limited, given that Nieland is already on the ballot. The Jasper County Democratic Party’s Central Committee can’t force Nieland off the ticket, although they can withdraw their support and ask Nieland to return the campaign contributions he’s received. On Wednesday, the central committee will meet again and vote on whether or not to throw their support behind Nieland.
“I think going forward, there needs to be a consensus — are we supporting this candidate or are we disassociating ourselves from this candidate?” Smith said.
Nieland said he decided to leave party members in the dark after searching through the Department of Justice’s website, where he claimed he only saw information released regarding convictions, rather than indictments listed. Confident the information would remain under wraps until after the election, Nieland decided against informing party members about the indictment.
“You start thinking as a candidate, is it going to be made public?” Nieland said. “I was going to put my word on the line to save her reputation. It didn’t have to come out. If it didn’t have to impact her, it stays quiet until the court date next summer.”
On Monday, Nieland alternated between apologizing for his actions and shifting the blame to his opponent, Republican Zach Nunn.
“If anybody feels misguided, lied to, it was not my intent,” Nieland said. “It was my intent to run a strong campaign, to defeat this little ... to defeat Zach (Nunn) and to keep my wife out of the fray as much as possible.”
Claiming he’s the victim of a smear job aiming at forcing him out of the election, Nieland said he believes Nunn used his connections in the federal government to release the information about Parkhill-Nieland’s indictment to the Newton Daily News, although the Senate candidate produced no evidence toward his claim Monday.
“You only need to look at the speed with which this was transmitted to the Newton Daily News,” Nieland said. “It was immediate. This doesn’t even happen with large drug crimes, large financial crimes. Someone from the inside anticipated the news was coming and sent the news within minutes. There’s one person that stood to gain from this, and that’s Zach Nunn.”
Nieland’s focus on Nunn intensified throughout the meeting. with Nieland reminding voters that Nunn was found to have planted a baby monitor in a desk used by the student body president and others to monitor their conversations while he was a student at Drake University. According to archive articles in the Des Moines Register, Nunn retained his position with the Student Activities Board following the incident and was not charged with a crime. In 2002, he told the newspaper he regretted the decision.
“It was a mistake,” Nunn said. “It’s something I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life, and I’m truly sorry.”
To Nieland, the indictment is little more than a tool Nunn is using to push him out of the race. On Monday, he urged members of the Jasper County Democratic Party’s Central Committee to help him continue his fight against Nunn.
“We have a choice. We can roll over, play dead and give them exactly what they want, or we can stand up and hold them accountable for trying to steal this race,” Nieland said. “I don’t have put it past him for one minute to have used his connections as a state rep and his connections in the federal government to orchestrate this.”
For many in the audience, the sense of disbelief was prevalent. Nieland is the third candidate Democrats have supported this year for SD15 after incumbent Chaz Allen and former Jasper County Democratic Party Chair Taylor Van De Krol both dropped out of the race. Longtime Democratic volunteer Cindy Pollard said she was disappointed party members chose Nieland over Southeast Polk school board member Lori Slings, Pollard’s cousin.
“We had a perfectly good candidate in Lori (Slings),” Pollard said. “As soon as he (Nieland) jumped into the race, I knew that seat was gone.”
Alex Freeman, campaign manager for Zach Nunn, gave the Newton Daily News a brief initial statement Tuesday morning in response to Nieland’s comments.
“We’re focused on our campaign, we’re focused on putting community first, and we’re focused on spreading a positive message to SD15 and we’ll continue to do that,” Freeman said.
Nunn is currently on a two-week deployment with U.S. military forces in support of NATO operations.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org