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OPINION: Jackley punts

By Cory Allen Heidelberger

Madville Times

Reading Attorney General Marty Jackley’s report on his investigation of financial misconduct in the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, I find that Richard Benda’s alleged double-billing of three airplane tickets for $5,559.80 looks like small potatoes compared to diversion of $550,000 from a million-dollar grant, approved by outgoing Gov. Mike Rounds, from doomed Northern Beef Packers to SDRC for “loan monitoring fees.”

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Rounds’ pal Joop Bollen runs SDRC. Richard Benda followed that million-dollar grant straight from the Rounds administration to a “job” at SDRC. But Jackley studiously avoids naming any names in the diversion of that half-millionplus.

Even more shockingly, Jackley says the state isn’t going to hold anyone accountable for that diversion. He says the state won’t try to recover the diverted money from nowbankrupt Northern Beef Packers. He says his investigation is closed; since the EB-5 program is a federal matter, Jackley cedes any further action to federal authorities.

Hold the phone, Marty. Two of the EB-5 loan funds (lending entities strangely unlicensed by the state banking commission) that Richard Benda ran for Joop Bollen through SDRC are now suing to ensure that whatever money Northern Beef Packers can raise in its bankruptcy auction goes back into their pockets.

SDRC is striving mightily to recover more than $60 million for foreign investors. Are you saying, Marty (and Dennis, and everyone else in Pierre) that you’re more interested in letting accused scam artists get their hands on money that they say they’ll return to Chinese and Korean investors than you are in retrieving misappropriated tax dollars for the people of South Dakota?

As for the feds, the diverted funds were state funds. They went directly to Northern Beef Packers. $550,000 looks suspiciously like the amount it would take to pay one well-placed EB-5 investor back for his or her green card purchase and fees paid to SDRC.

But diverting those funds to an EB-5 investor wouldn’t change Jackley’s power to take the diverter by the legal scruff of the neck and say, “Hand us back the cash, or you’re going to jail.”

There are only a handful of explanations for not trying to get South Dakota’s money back, none of which sound good:

• The Daugaard administration doesn’t think $550,000 in improperly used taxpayer dollars is worth sweating.

• The Daugaard administration doesn’t want to hold accountable the people responsible for taking that money.

• The Daugaard administration is more interested in keeping certain rich and powerful foreigners happy and quiet than it is in prosecuting lawbreakers.

The state’s six-month investigation of financial misconduct in Governor Rounds’ Office of Economic Development is not producing satisfactory answers. South Dakotans can only hope the federal grand jury that got the ball rolling with a subpoena in March can restore the public trust, if not the public checkbook.