Back to: Investigates
August 14, 2017 10:18 PM

Part 1: Fishing For Answers

This story is part one of an ongoing KELOLAND Investigates series about Global Aquaponics:
Part 1: Fishing For Answers | Part 2: Fishing For Answers | Follow Up: FBI Asks Questions About Global Aquaponics

A $13-million company promised to build the largest, most advanced facility of its kind in a KELOLAND field. 

The opening date has come and gone... and the field still sits empty. Just last summer we took you to the ground breaking for Global Aquaponics.  

The hydroponic farming facility -- located just south of Brookings, SD -- promised to combine fish farming with growing plants in water instead of soil.  

Only as KELOLAND News Investigates shows you in our year-long Eye on KELOLAND investigation, despite all the hype, some people are wondering whether there is something "fishy" about the operation.
  
With much fanfare, and even South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley picking up a shovel, Global Aquaponics announced more than a year ago that a new facility, designed to revolutionize the way food is grown, would be built right here in South Dakota. 

"Essentially we are going to build the largest more advanced facility in the world in Aquaponics.  It generates food, water and energy," Tobias Ritesman said. 

That's Tobias Ritesman, who goes by the nickname "The Tiger."  He runs Ritesman Enterprises and several other companies.  

Angela Kennecke: "How much will it cost you to build this facility?"
Ritesman: "$8 million."  
Kennecke "$8 million, and who's investing in it?"
Ritesman: "Me. My investors, local guys-some of the gentlemen over here--my esteemed colleagues."  

Ritesman told us some of that money had already been raised. 

Kennecke: Have you gotten all those investors?  Have you gotten $2 million? 
Ritesman: "Oh yeah. We wanted to get as many local people involved in some of our projects and stuff like that."  
Kennecke: "Have you raised more than $2 million?"
Ritesman: "No."  

Aquaponics is a combination of fish and plant production using aquaculture and hydroponics systems, aquaponics is now moving from the realm of experimental to commercial, but experts in the field tell us no facility as big as Ritesman is promising has been built yet.  

"And that fact we can grow food on demand is pretty nice, like we have shrimp, fresh fish,  non-GMO.. it's like having fresh produce year round. In the middle of January you can have fresh strawberries if you want," Ritesman said. 

A few days later we tried to get a follow-up interview with Ritesman to get more details, but were instead told we could  interview John Haverhals.  We were told Haverhals was the new CEO of Global Aquaponics.  

Haverhals told KELOLAND News that Ritesman was too busy to speak with us again.  

"He's working on so many other projects, like with NASA and so many other companies. He consults with many international companies, so... That's the problem with being so smart; everyone wants you to work with them or on their projects," Haverhals said. 

Kennecke: "But he won't be doing interviews on this endeavor; this company anymore?"
Haverhals: "Nope, he'll just being doing statements."  

Haverhals told us in addition to being CEO, he is also an investor in Global Aquaponics. 

Haverhals: "It's really intrigued a lot of people around the world. We met with the Prime Minister of India and we are discussing other facilities in the United States as well." AK: But the only one you're building right now is by Brookings?"
Haverhals: "Correct."
Kennecke: "There's not an agreement any place else?" 
Haverhals: "That's correct." 
Kennecke: "And you have invested yourself? Your own money?"
HAVERHALS: "I've got some skin in the game. That makes me work extra hard at it."  

Haverhals told us that the minimum investment in the Global Aquaponic Facility is $25,000.  

Remember how much Ritesman told us had been raised just a few days earlier?  

Kennecke: "Have you raised more than $2 million?"
Ritesman: "No."  

Yet two weeks later, Haverhals had a different answer: 

"We've raised $5 million," Haverhals said. 

He told us a group of local investors was in on the project.  

Kennecke: "The company is valued at $13 million? "
Haverhals: "That's correct." 
Kennecke: "So, what are the assets of that company, that it's valued at $13 million."
Haverhals: "I couldn't actually list all that out. I just came on board a week ago."  

At the time, Haverhals showed us around the Ritesman offices in the First Bank & Trust Building on Minnesota Avenue in Sioux Falls, SD. 
It had a great view, but no one was working inside. However, there was one closed door we weren't allowed to go behind. 

Kennecke: "Can we just get a wide shot of the cubicles and not boards or anything?"
Haverhals: "Unfortunately, no. No one goes back there." 

Haverhals assured us the South Dakota facility would soon be ready for us to see in the spring of 2017

"The Sioux Falls and South Dakota, we are really blessed to have such a great business opportunity. And we've felt the support from local banks to local producers. I'm just excited about the future and we're really excited to have you come and tour our facility in 2017," Haverhals said. 

When we checked back at the site in July of 2016, construction hadn't begun. We returned with our camera three months later in September of 2016 and then eight months later in March of 2017 and still found no activity.  
Finally we came back in July and still nothing was happening.   Brookings County tells KELOLAND News no building permits have been issued for the property.  

Despite that, in April of this year, in a news release, Global Aquaponics claimed the facility was "under construction."  It also said it would be donating some of its produce to Feeding South Dakota to help the hungry.  

"Do you think that Feeding South Dakota's good name is being used to give Global Aquaponics legitimacy," Kennecke asked Feeding South Dakota. 
"I couldn't speak to that at all Angela, I would hope not," Matt Gassen of Feeding SD said. 

Now Feeding South Dakota, Aquaponics investors and the Brookings community are left wondering whether they've been sold a bill of goods. 

Kennecke: "What was the biggest sell do you think?"
Ritesman: "Uh, I guess people's understanding of how broad our thing was. Aquaponics is just one thing we do... uh.. and Ritesman we're launching a platform that is very innovative. It's designed to take an idea from napkin to consumer faster than anything in human history." 

While the Brookings hydroponics facility is clearly not being taken to the consumer faster than anything in human history, our investigation has uncovered a lot of information about Global Aquaponics' leaders and their claims. 

You won't want to miss the second part of this investigation which takes us all the way to Texas. 

We track down the man who started Global Aquaponics back in the 1990's, Tuesday night on KELOLAND News.  

Meanwhile, John Haverhals tells us while he is still an investor, he is no longer involved in leadership with the company.  

© 2017 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved.
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