KELOLAND News continues our investigation into a company that's asking local investors to pay for a multi-million dollar hydroponics fish farm near Brookings, SD.
Did you miss part one? Click here to watch.
The facility was supposed to be done last spring, but the site still sits empty.
Global Aquaponics promised big returns on investors' money and the company leaders were convincing with their impressive backgrounds.
The investigation takes us from a field south of Brookings to Texas.
That's where we found the man who started Global Aquaponics.
He was surprised to find out what's happening in South Dakota.
KELOLAND News Investigates uncovered as our year-long investigation continues, the story just doesn't add up.
"The facility itself will be about eight acres of green houses and buildings. It's huge, " Tobias Ritesman said in June of 2016.
That's what Ritesman told us at the June 2016 groundbreaking of Global Aquaponics. Aquaponics is a combination of fish and plant production using aquaculture and hydroponics systems. But industry experts say the technology is far from perfected.
Ritesman told us he planned to raise millions from local investors for the project.
"And we've got a lot of government institutions that are waiting to see how big it is," Ritesman said.
While Ritesman never granted us another interview after that, there were still plenty of things he told us about himself at the time.
Kennecke: You got an MBA from UCLA. Is that right?
Ritesman: Yes ma'am.
KELOLAND Investigates checked Ritesman's credentials. UCLA tells us Ritesman does not have a Master's in Business Administration from the university.
Ritesman also touted his professional experience in that interview with us.
Ritesman: Just consulting, strategies and stuff like that, you know, um.
Kennecke: Who have you done consulting strategies for?
Ritesman: Like Google, MSN, that kind of stuff--back when I did marketing. So you're looking at stuff with marketing. I know I don't sound like it--I'm actually pretty good when I write stuff down.
Yet Google and MSN were unable to confirm that Ritesman did any work for either company. MSN even asked that that credential be taken out of any story on Ritesman.
We did find that Tobias Ritesman was linked to this chain letter involving a money-making scheme online out of Iowa City back in 2004. Here you can see that he ran online treasure hunts in 2009.
He also self-published this book: Internet Underground: The Way of the Hacker.
Ritesman was presented with the Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2016 at the United Nations by Global University Alliance. Henrik von Scheel is on the Global University Alliance board. Von Scheel is also on Ritesman's board at Global Aquaponics.
"With Henrick, we want to move him here so he can; some enterprises and I can kind of.. I'm more the builder," Ritesman said.
Then there's Andre Grant out of Atlanta. Grant was also at the groundbreaking ceremony and is currently also listed as Global Aquaponics CEO. Grant claims to be an honors graduate of Georgia Institute of Technology,
Only, as with Ritesman, that doesn't check out. The Georgia Institute of Technology tells KELOLAND News it has not issued a degree to an Andre Grant. Despite the fact that Grant is still listed online as CEO, John Haverhals told us he was Global Aquaponics new CEO.
Kennecke: What about Andre Grant, is he still involved?
Haverhals: Yep, he is now moving into a role with Tiger Consulting, which is a division of Ritesman Enterprises.
Back to the June 2016 groundbreaking; Ritesman also told us that the project was getting funding through the South Dakota Governor's Office of Economic Development.
Kennecke: Is the State backing this?
Ritesman: Yeah, there's programs we are working with--one of my partners, too, is G-O-D I think it's called.
Kennecke: You're working with GOED?
Ritesman: I think so yeah, on partners like that. I'm mostly just the guy who builds everything.
The Governor's Office of Economic Development tells KELOLAND News it is not working with Ritesman Enterprises on the project. Haverhals told us the company is working with South Dakota State University.
"We're really excited to utilize SDSU. They have so much talent up there and we really think that's going to be a learning center for SDSU and our partnership with them to keep on scale with this, but yet using the talent we have in South Dakota to use at other facilities," Haverhals said.
However, the head of SDSU's Department of Natural Resource Management and College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences tells KELOLAND News the school hasn't had any recent communication with the company.
One SDSU professor tells us he was concerned when he asked one of the Ritesman officials at the groundbreaking what breed of fish they planned to have in the facility and they didn't know.
The Ritesman company also refused to provide us with any data on the other facilities it claims it purchased its hydroponic technology from.
Haverhals: We've ran through the data and the investors do know the data.
Kennecke: So you've seen it yourself.
Haverhals: Um hum.
Kennecke: Tell me about that. If you're not going to tell me specifics tell me about what your impression was--what you've seen from the data
Haverhals: I'd seen other data from other facilities that weren't even aquaculture to hydroponics. This was the best investment and the technology that Ritesman brought to the group from going to the solar to having the advanced bio filters. A lot of this stuff really stands out head above heals for everyone else.
When we asked Haverhals for architectural renderings of the Brookings facility, we were provided with drawings, which are the same as pictures from other companies with their logos removed.
"My name is Adam Harwood we own Global Aquaponics LLC in San Marcos Texas. I am Global Aquaponics.net," Harwood said.
KELOLAND Investigates tracked down the man who actually started Global Aquaponics in 2009 in Texas and whose operation has been studied by experts in the field.
"I'm an up and running business. I"m not a theoretical start up or a consulting firm," Harwood said.
Harwood sells to farmers markets and a grocery store chain.
"What I'm showing you know is some kale that is out of the ordinary in size," Harwood said in a 2012 YouTube video.
Harwood tells KELOLAND Investigates he didn't sell his technology to the men who are running Global Aquaponics in South Dakota.
"In Brookings, South Dakota eight acres and eight million dollars was gathered using Global Aquaponics name to build a fish farm and I told them it's the first I heard about it. I didn't know it existed. I didn't know anything about it, so it was news to me. I don't know who these people are. I'm shocked," Harwood said.
But the Global Aquaponics group in South Dakota told us investors they could expect an impressive return within four years.
Kennecke: What kind of return on the investment are you predicting people will get?
Haverhals: They will be well taken care of.
Kennecke: What kind of return do you expect to give people on their investments?
Ritesman: Ah well, I don't talk about that. I don't promise people. That's not something you talk about in public.
Kennecke: Okay, but it's a valid question though.
Ritesman: I think the returns are pretty good. I think they're very happy with what's going on. I haven't had any complaints.
But with one year already up, there's no activity at the Global Aquaponics site south of Brookings.
"If I was given $8 million dollars to build these 8 greenhouses, they might be built. The people in South Dakota wouldn't be calling me to find out where this guy is or do I know anything about them," Harwood said.
We recently returned to Ritesman Enterprises office looking for an update on the facility, but no one was there.
Harwood has this advice for anyone looking to invest in an aquaponics farm.
"I tell people the same thing all the time, when you find somebody who wants to sell you a fish farm, you need to ask them very specifically how many fish are you feeding today?" Harwood said.
And when the answer is none...
"I have a great term for it. It's call aqua-shister," Harwood said.
People in the office next door to Ritesman Enterprises told us they only see activity in the Ritesman office about once a week.
Following our requests for a new interview with the company, we received this email: It says "At this time we are not conducting any interviews with the press. We are currently focused on the advancement of our projects."
The company also promised to include KELO in any future news releases.
Thank you for the invitation for a follow-up interview on our company. At this time we are not conducting any interviews with the press. We are currently focused on the advancement of our projects and will be sure to include KELO in any future press releases. Thank you again for your positive coverage and support of local businesses.
Global Aquaponics Inc. Team
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