Death of former state official Richard Benda ruled a suicide
SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — Former South Dakota economic development director Richard Benda died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound to the abdomen, Attorney General Marty Jackley said Thursday.
Benda died Oct. 20 and was found Oct. 22 in a grove of trees near Lake Andes, in southeast South Dakota. He was wearing some blaze orange clothing, Jackley said, indicating he may have been hunting.
The attorney general on Thursday announced the results of the autopsy, which was conducted by the forensic pathologist with the Minnehaha County Coroner's Office, and his office's own investigation into the death.
“We did an additional investigation, scene reconstruction,” Jackley told The Associated Press on Thursday. “We conducted interviews, we collected evidence at the scene and we did further forensic testing that was all consistent with no foul play and what the forensic autopsy showed.”
Jackley said a 12-gauge shotgun was the only weapon found at the scene.
Benda's family members could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Benda served as secretary of Tourism and State Development from 2006 to 2010 under former Gov. Mike Rounds, who is now a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
The day after Benda's funeral, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard acknowledged that an investigation was underway into the Governor's Office of Economic Development involving possible financial misconduct prior to his administration. Daugaard said there had also been a federal investigation.
Jackley said he expects to provide information to Daugaard regarding the state's economic development investigation this week.
“These have been two separate matters,” Jackley said.
After leaving state government, Benda served as loan monitor for the Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen, a project spurred by funds from the federal EB-5 immigration program. The plant's former general partner and its former construction contractor have told the AP that they've been questioned by federal authorities about the plant's finances and its use of EB-5 funds.
Northern Beef, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in July, is idled pending a Dec. 5 auction.
The South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development for years contracted with the privately held SDRC Inc. to administer the federal EB-5 program, in which foreign investors can secure permanent residency for as little as $500,000. The program helped fund several large projects in the state.
As economic development director, Benda was active in promoting South Dakota opportunities to overseas investors, and he also was involved with EB-5 program as loan monitor for the plant.
Jackley said he has heard concerns about why the autopsy and death investigation took a full month to complete, but he said the time was needed for such a thorough investigation. Jackley received the coroner's autopsy report late Wednesday night, he said, and he had to review the entire file and speak to Benda's immediate family before Thursday's release.
“In this case, we had an autopsy, we had investigation scene reconstruction, we had interviews, we had evidence collected at the scene that we had to do forensic testing on that included anything from firearm functioning to ballistic testing to DNA to fingerprinting,” Jackley said. “This was done in a very timely and efficient when you're looking at such a serious determination.”
The death investigation was conducted by the state Division of Criminal Investigation with help from the Charles Mix County Sheriff's Office and the FBI.