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MERCER: A lineup card for the GOED mystery

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Bob Mercer, Capitol Correspondent  PIERRE — Who and what are state and federal investigators probing in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development?

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We might never know unless criminal charges are brought. The matter allegedly happened before Gov. Dennis Daugaard took office in January 2011.

The governor has been careful to point that out, twice. Most recent was Wednesday. His office issued a statement declaring investigations had been under way.

The previous time was Oct. 22. His office issued a statement regarding the gunshot death of Rich Benda two days earlier. Daugaard noted Benda hadn’t worked in his administration.

Benda was secretary of tourism and state development from 2006 through 2010. That was in the cabinet of the previous governor, Mike Rounds, who is a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Daugaard was lieutenant governor for the eight years while Rounds was governor.

During Rounds’ tenure, the state Board of Economic Development made a $5 million loan to Northern Beef Packers for the Aberdeen plant. That was in 2010.

Daugaard followed up in December 2011 with a $2 million state grant for Northern Beef Packers.

Here is Gov. Daugaard’s statement about the investigations:

“Earlier this year, I became aware of alleged misconduct, prior to my administration, at the economic development office. I asked the state Attorney General to investigate and provided all relevant materials to him. There has also been a federal investigation. I refer any further questions regarding the investigations to the Attorney General and the U.S. Attorney.

“I take very seriously my responsibility as Governor to protect taxpayer dollars and to ensure the integrity of state economic development programs. I am confident in the integrity of those in my administration who work at GOED, and at my direction, GOED has initiated an independent review to verify that any alleged misconduct was an isolated incident.”

State Attorney General Marty Jackley confirmed that “requests have been made for authorities to review allegations of financial misconduct” but declined to provide further information at this time.

U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson said he wouldn’t confirm or deny the existence of a federal investigation.

Jackley, a Republican like Rounds and Daugaard, previously was U.S. attorney for the district of South Dakota. That was during the presidency of George W. Bush, a Republican.

Jackley was succeeded by Johnson, a Democrat, upon the election of Barack Obama, a Democrat, as president.

Johnson’s father is U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, a Democrat, who isn’t seeking re-election in 2014. Brendan Johnson was urged to run but ultimately decided no.

Rounds is seeking election to the seat.

While governor, Rounds helped Jackley. In 2009, he picked Attorney General Larry Long for a judgeship in Minnehaha County. Then he appointed Jackley as attorney general. Jackley won election to a full term in 2010.

Daugaard split tourism and state development in 2011. Benda wasn’t retained. Benda privately helped Northern Beef finally open, before it ran out of money and closed.

State and federal investigators were looking at that situation before Benda died Oct. 20. The death is under investigation by Jackley.

Our attention is drawn to Richard Benda and Northern Beef. But we don’t really know if that is where we should look.

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