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Dems Want Deeper EB-5 Investigation

Kealey Bultena

Democratic lawmakers are calling to subpoena state and business leaders who were involved in the EB-5 program before and during the embezzlement of government funds. State lawmakers overwhelmingly supported a resolution to hold hearings relating to the Governor's Office of Economic Development. A legislative panel is reviewing audits and asking questions, but not all lawmakers say the committee is delving deep enough.

Five Democratic members of South Dakota’s legislature say the Government Operations and Audit Committee is falling short in its inquiry into the EB-5 investment visa program and embezzlement in South Dakota.

They want to require former governor Mike Rounds and current Governor Dennis Daugaard to testify on the EB-5 program. Democrats say they also want Joop Bollen to answer questions; Bollen lead the private company SDRC Inc. He helped broker and manage deals between foreign investors and South Dakota business projects.

State Representative Bernie Hunhoff says the committee has a responsibility to hold the executive branch accountable. Hunhoff says he and other Democrats want to know who knew what and when.
"We worked with Republicans on the bi-partisan resolution HCR 1010 for GOAC (Government Operations and Audits) to establish hearings, request additional information, summon witnesses, and subpoena key players who were involved in the EB-5 scandal and economic development in general, yet GOAC has done nothing to find answers for South Dakota taxpayers," Hunhoff says. 

This summer members of GOAC heard from the Attorney General and the Commissioner of the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. They reviewed three audits that earlier identified areas for improvement to avoid future theft in state government. An investigation revealed former cabinet Secretary Richard Benda embezzled more than $550,000 as he left state government for a private job handling foreign investments in South Dakota. The Auditor General report discloses no additional crimes.

Republican State Senator Larry Tidemann chairs GOAC. He says lawmakers on the committee don’t have the authority to answer all of the questions Democrats pose.

"Ordering additional audits would mean that it’s going to cost more money. We were not given a budget to work with to get this done. We just have our regular meetings that we go through during the interim part of the session," Tidemann says. "I don’t know what could be gained by ordering all of those folks in."

Tidemann says some questions Democrats have can be answered only in a court and not by a legislative investigation. He says the committee is fulfilling the task lawmakers supported during session.

Kealey Bultena grew up in South Dakota, where her grandparents took advantage of the state’s agriculture at nap time, tricking her into car rides to “go see cows.” Rarely did she stay awake long enough to see the livestock, but now she writes stories about the animals – and the legislature and education and much more. Kealey worked in television for four years while attending the University of South Dakota. She started interning with South Dakota Public Broadcasting in September 2010 and accepted a position with television in 2011. Now Kealey is the radio news producer stationed in Sioux Falls. As a multi-media journalist, Kealey prides herself on the diversity of the stories she tells and the impact her work has on people across the state. Kealey is always searching for new ideas. Let her know of a great story! Find her on Facebook and twitter (@KealeySDPB).
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