KELOLAND Investigates has uncovered the extent of the FBI's investigation into former South Dakota Secretary of Tourism, Richard Benda before his death in 2013.
Just a quick reminder, Benda was involved in EB-5--a federal program that allowed rich foreign investors to "buy" green cards by putting money into U.S. projects.
That project in South Dakota was the failed Northern Beef Packers Plant in Aberdeen. More than 100 Asian investors put in $115 million to build it.
Through the Freedom of Information Act, KELOLAND Investigates requested the FBI file of Richard Benda, which can only be provided after someone dies.
Before his October 2013 suicide, Richard Benda was about to be indicted for funneling a half million dollars of state money into his own pocket.
Benda went from being paid by the state to administer EB5 to being hired by Joop Bollen to monitor the loans.
While Bollen plead guilty in 2017 to using taxpayer dollars for personal use, questions remain over the state's involvement in the EB 5 program and how it all started with an exclusive, no-bid contract.
There have also been questions over the suicide investigation into Benda's death.
KELOLAND Investigates put in a FOIA request to the FBI in March of 2017 for Benda's file.
More than a year later, the FBI finally responded to our request.
The FBI told us there were 500 pages in the file. We got just 87 pages. And what did those pages tell us?
Mostly, a whole lot of nothing, because most are blank.
However, it did outline the timeline and some of what took place during the FBI's investigation into Benda.
We do know the case was investigated by the FBI's "Public Corruption Unit"
The victim was the "State of South Dakota" and the investigation began in May of 2012, a year and a half before Benda's death.
Occasionally we see a white male or white female was interviewed in Benda's case, but not who, or what they said.
We also can see that a Minneapolis investigator traveled to Indianapolis to interview someone in Benda's case in 2012.
Other documents show there was activity in the FBI's investigation into Benda in 2013, but they don't show what took place.
In February of 2013, the FBI issued subpoenas for witnesses to testify before a grand jury at the Federal Courthouse in Sioux Falls.
The FBI continued to conduct and record interviews in June of 2013.
The FBI also collected emails in the case.
The content of those emails, like the interviews have all been removed from the files we received. In July of 2013, The FBI updated someone on the Benda investigation.
One document released to KELOLAND investigates contains a little more information, but it's not put into any kind of context:
It's a June 2013 interview conducted by Jim Flannigan, an investigator with the U.S. Attorney's office at the time and FBI agent Ted Miller.
They were talking to Dennis Hellwig and Norg Sanderson, two Aberdeen businessmen who started the beef processing plant.
KELOLAND News spoke with Sanderson on the phone Wednesday who told us the interview was about the state taking over the plant.
Sanderson told the agents, "They (the state) couldn't figure out a beef plant if you asked them."
Sanderson also told agents, "This is political, it's all political, it's got nothing to do with money."
When we asked Sanderson what he meant by that, he said the state of South Dakota taking over the plant was simply political and he had nothing else to tell us about that FBI interview.
Flanigan asked Sanderson, "Did you have any specific conversations with Benda about this stuff." Sanderson answered, "No."
Officials issued more subpoenas in July 2013 for people to testify before a grand jury.
Benda's file also includes newspaper articles from July about the packing plant going under.
The FBI conducted more interviews and collected emails that are redacted through August of that year.
Benda shot himself in October of 2013.
Because of the lack of information provided to us following our request, KELOLAND Investigates is appealing through the FOIA office. We'll let you know what we find out.
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