Sioux Falls, SD
South Dakota Democrats and Republicans are each calling for more testimony-- in person and under oath--before a legislative panel looking into the immigrant investor program EB-5.
Questions about the EB-5 program began last fall after former Tourism Secretary Richard Benda committed suicide and it was discovered that he misdirected a half million dollars to pay his salary for monitoring EB-5 loans.
On Tuesday, both Republicans and Democrats called on each other to answer questions.
Democrats have been calling out the South Dakota Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee for not digging deep enough into EB-5.
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They asked the committee Tuesday to call on Governor Dennis Daugaard, former Governor Mike Rounds, former EB-5 administrator Joop Bollen, as well as his attorney Jeff Sveen, for in-person, under oath testimony.
"This is probably the last best chance for South Dakotans to get answers," Rep. Bernie Hunhoff (D) Yankton said.
The committee meets again on September 24 as it prepares to file a report with the full legislature in December.
Republican Senator Larry Tidemann, the chairman of the committee, has requested written responses from both Rounds and Daugaard. He said he's done that to avoid political confrontation during the meeting.
Representative Susan Wismer is one of only two Democrats on the committee. She's also running for governor against Daugaard.
"I do not want to turn the committee meeting into a political debate where one committee member has the opportunity, who is running for that office, to pose questions that may turn into a debate," Tidemann said.
Tidemann has also asked Bollen to appear in person and requests that Democratic U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson also appear in front of the committee.
State officials say Johnson's office is investigating the EB-5 program, but Johnson has declined to confirm or deny an investigation.
"I'm just asking them to let the people know in South Dakota what they are doing or not doing in regards to the investigation," Tidemann said.
"I haven't seen the letter (asking for my appearance) and don't want to comment until I've had a chance to review it,” Johnson told KELOLAND News over the phone Tuesday.
Daugaard and Rounds say they will answer written questions submitted by the committee, but Democrats don't think that's enough.
"I hope they show up in person rather than just having written statements because there are questions that need to be asked face to face, eye to eye," Senator Larry Lucas (D) Mission said.
Tidemann says he hasn't heard from Bollen's office as to whether the former EB-5 administrator will appear in front of the committee.
Bollen, and his attorney Jeff Sveen, did not respond to requests for comment from KELOLAND News Tuesday.