An important blank was filled last week in the EB-5 immigrant investor program probe.
But why did this take so long to fill it?
Last Tuesday, South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley told the Government Operations and Audit Committee that he was preparing to bring criminal charges against former Secretary of Tourism Richard Benda when Benda died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Jackley revealed last week that he drafted a criminal complaint and an arrest warrant concerning Benda on Oct. 8 alleging numerous counts of grand theft. On Oct. 11, Jackley called for a grand jury to convene to consider the case.
Benda was found dead of what was ruled a self-inflicted gunshot wound near Lake Andes last Oct. 22, about two days after it’s believed he died.
But the attorney general didn’t reveal his legal processes until last week, after more than nine months on inquiries, reports and questions.
The revelation connects some dots that, to be honest, most people probably had linked together already: that Benda had likely gotten wind of what was coming and saw no escape from the threat of ruination that loomed, and so he took matters into his own hands.
Still, why didn’t this come out many months ago as investigations at the state and federal levels began digging into this matter? This makes very little sense, and adds a new, frustrating mystery to this complex tale of corruption and suicide.
One of the charges Jackley was preparing to file alleged that Benda shifted more than $500,000 from a state grant that he oversaw to be used to pay two years of Benda’s salary when he left the employment of the state. The money was part of a Future Fund grant for Northern Beef Packers of Aberdeen in 2010.
Another charge was to claim that the $500,000-plus was obtained through embezzlement and deception.
Jackley’s late-game admission would seem to suggest that more questions need to be answered, one way or another.
But apparently not. When Government Operations and Audit Committee member Rep. Susan Wismer (a Democrat running for governor) asked that the other committee members, all of whom are Republican, to subpoena Joop Bollen — the president of the South Dakota Development Corp., which acted as an intermediary between the state and Northern Beef, and a person with whom Benda had developed close professional ties — the proposal died for a lack of a second. Later, committee chairman Sen. Larry Tidemann declared that the EB-5 probe by the panel, which was empowered to conduct the inquiry by Joint Resolution HB 1010 passed last winter, appears to be finished, unless a federal investigation creates new questions.
Whether or not that means this has been reduced to a political football is problematic — and, if so, unfortunate.
South Dakotans have watched this grim matter play out for months. Last week’s admission by the attorney general brought a curious new light to this subject, but the state doesn’t seem overly curious to wonder why it came out now and what else — if anything — had yet to be revealed.
South Dakotans deserve the whole story. At least they need to know that the veins of evidence have been thoroughly mined. Jackley’s actions last week suggest they haven’t. It may indeed be the last substantive word on the matter, but we need to know that for sure.
After all these months, we need to know more, or at least we need to know that this matter has been extensively exhausted. We also need to know that state officials are curious enough to take this to that end, or if they are more interested in letting it fade away.