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Legislature’s GOED inquiry seems to be near end

PIERRE — The Legislature’s investigatory committee looking into South Dakota’s involvement in the federal EB-5 immigrant investor program has wrapped up most of its work unless a federal investigation would generate new questions in the future, the panel’s chairman said Tuesday.

Sen. Larry Tidemann, R-Brookings, said he was surprised by the candor Tuesday from state Attorney General Marty Jackley testifying about preparations last October to arrest former state official Richard Benda, only to find Benda dead days later from a shotgun blast.

Jackley previously had closely guarded much of the information from his probe that looked at Benda’s activities while secretary of tourism and state development from 2006 through early 2011 in the Rounds administration.

But Jackley, who was appointed to his position in 2009 by then-Gov. Mike Rounds, said Tuesday he felt OK making the disclosures now without a court order or a legislative subpoena because he was providing the information at the legislative panel’s request.

Rounds is the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in the November general election. Benda’s Oct. 20 death was ruled a suicide.

Jackley revealed to members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee on Tuesday that his office drafted a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant before Benda died and also had scheduled a grand jury for Oct. 28.

Jackley had maintained for months that he couldn’t speak about matters involving a grand jury in the Benda case, if there was one, without a judge’s permission.

But after his testimony Tuesday, Jackley returned to his previous position and said in a written statement, “Additional disclosures would require a court order.”

Jackley spent about 20 minutes speaking to the GOAC members Tuesday and they then went into a closed-door session with Jackley to talk about the committee’s powers to compel witnesses to testify.

The Legislature approved a resolution last winter requesting GOAC hold hearings related to the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. The resolution specifically referred to the committee’s power to summon witnesses and issue subpoenas.

No subpoenas have been issued. Jackley voluntarily met with the committee after private discussions with Tidemann during past weeks. “I think the committee has done its due diligence of that resolution,” Tidemann said. “We’ve used the avenues before us.”

Tidemann said after the meeting the committee has fulfilled its responsibilities by hearing from state officials about adding safeguards and making reforms, and going through reports from state and private accountants who reviewed the office’s finances and practices.

He said an unfinished piece is conflict of interest legislation that would be offered to lawmakers to consider in the 2015 session.

The committee also is requested by the resolution to submit a report of its findings before Dec. 1 to the Legislature. Tidemann said the final report would probably need to wait until after the 2015 session.