Warren Welch, a former prison guard and evangelical pastor, pleaded not guilty this week in state court in Pierre to charges he had sex with an inmate in the state Women’s Prison in Pierre and provided her with contraband in return.
Welch, 62, was a pastor for years in South Dakota, including in Pierre, with an evangelical denomination. He focused on ministering to Native Americans in South Dakota and other states, according to church publications.
He is a member of the Crow Creek Sioux Tribe, according to the church’s publications.
Welch had been a corrections officer at the prison in Pierre for several years and his last salary was just under $20 an hour, according to an website that has state employee information.
Welch has spoken at meetings of state prison officials about the problem of inmates having access to illegal drugs, according to minutes of state meetings.
State Circuit Court Judge Bridget Mayer told Welch on Tuesday he’s facing up to eight years in prison on four felony counts handed down by a grand jury on May 26.
Two counts charge that he had prohibited sexual acts with a certain inmate on four dates — Dec. 9, 2018, April 9, 2019, May 16, 2019 and July 16, 2019. Two counts charge him with providing the same woman with “unauthorized” articles, identified by here in other court documents as including cellphones and cash.
According to court documents, Welch and the woman said they met at a church in Sioux Falls several years ago and maintained contact. Documents state the woman told an investigator she would have sex with Welch in return for him providing her with items such as cellphones and cash.
The woman, who is in her late 20s, was serving a sentence handed down in late 2018 in eastern South Dakota for illegal drug possession and was released on parole early this year, according to prison records.
The woman was on work release in and near Pierre last year and late in 2018, according to court documents in the case.
She said she and Welch would have sex in vehicles and other places while she was out of the prison on work release.
The woman, watching security video with an investigator, said it showed a time last year when Welch, while working as a guard, delivered a cellphone to her in a way that avoided detection, according to court documents.
Investigators said other inmates said they were aware of the relationships between Welch and the inmate.
Welch declined to comment on the charges. In court documents, he is described as released on a personal recognizance bond and retired and living in a Jayco RV in which he returned to South Dakota to face the charges.
He is being represented by Roger Ellyson, a Watertown attorney who took part in the arraignment Tuesday via telephone. Amanda Miller from the South Dakota Attorney General’s office is prosecuting Welch.