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MERCER: A dead man doesn't give an interview

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opinion Mitchell, 57301
The Daily Republic
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Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

PIERRE -- The Pew research center distributed results this summer showing South Dakota has the smallest corps of news reporters assigned to covering the statehouse.

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There are two of us. The other reporter works for The Associated Press and is temporarily assigned to Pierre, while AP looks to make a permanent hire. Chet Brokaw retired earlier this year.

Officially I work for the Aberdeen American News. But my stories and columns are shared simultaneously among seven daily papers at Aberdeen, Watertown, Mitchell, Yankton, Pierre, Rapid City and Spearfish.

Six papers pay Aberdeen. It is an efficient system. A news item that would be of interest to one or more of the seven often comes up while looking into another. Travel expenses are spread.

But there are many days I can't get to every state meeting in Pierre or elsewhere across South Dakota.

During legislative session, there frequently are four or more committee meetings in the same two-hour block each morning, followed by another two-hour block of the same.

Consequently I juggle.

If AP is at a meeting, I decide whether I need to be there too, because of some topic of direct interest to one of the seven papers I serve. If there is another meeting of direct interest, I frequently go to that other meeting.

The other morning there were three meetings at the same time.

I chose the Transportation Commission meeting and picked up two stories immediately, with another one in my notes and background for a fourth one later.

From there, I headed to the South Dakota High School Activities Association offices where the board of directors, including four new members, gathered.

The SDHSAA directors worked through lunch, taking a short break to get sub sandwiches from the back counter of the meeting room.

The meeting I didn't attend was of directors for the South Dakota Development Corporation.

SDDC was one link then-Gov. Mike Rounds used to get state Future Fund grants to Northern Beef at Aberdeen.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley determined several Future Fund grants were increased to SDDC in December 2010. Northern Beef received an extra $550,000 from SDDC.

Northern Beef meanwhile diverted $550,000 from a different $1 million grant approved by Rounds in December 2010. The $550,000 went to an escrow account for SDRC Inc.

Joop Bollen, of Aberdeen, operated SDRC and under a 2009 contract ran the EB-5 immigrant-investor visa program for state government.

SDRC raised tens of millions of dollars for projects such as Northern Beef and profited by charging fees to EB-5 investors and borrowers.

In the center was Richard Benda, secretary of tourism and state development for Rounds. Benda and Bollen signed the 2009 contract.

Benda went to work at SDRC in 2011 as loan monitor for Northern Beef. The $550,000 paid Benda for two years and covered other costs.

Jackley prepared last October to arrest Benda. But Benda died Oct. 20 from a shotgun wound to his abdomen described as suicide.

I wish someone tipped off a reporter in 2010. A dead man is hard to interview.

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