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OPINION: Allow all media access to Benda case files

The death of Richard Benda, former secretary of tourism and state development, might have been a routine investigation except for his involvement in an investment program that included foreign investors receiving federal immigration visas.

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Benda was apparently hunting near Lake Andes when he died of a gunshot wound on Oct. 20. His body wasn’t found until Oct. 22. State investigators ruled that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot to the abdomen.

However, Benda’s involvement in a controversial federal EB-5 visa program that helped fund projects in South Dakota, including Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen, while with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development fueled speculation that there was something more sinister involved in his death. Northern Beef received more than $60 million in loans, mostly from foreign investors.

Federal authorities have been investigating the program for two years, and in March a federal grand jury issued a subpoena to the governor’s office. Gov. Dennis Daugaard ordered a state investigation in April.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley last week announced that he would allow a pool report of investigation reports regarding Benda’s death. Two reporters will be permitted to view the reports, photographs and other materials and share the information with other reporters.

With all the rumors and speculation surrounding Benda’s death, the release of the death investigation material is a good idea. However, we question the release of the Benda investigation file to pool reporters.

With the intense media interest in the Benda case, it would be better to allow all media access to the files.

-Rapid City Journal