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AG: Benda Suicide Came Days Prior To Possible Indictment

July 29, 2014, 5:54 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

AG: Benda Suicide Came Days Prior To Possible Indictment
PIERRE, SD -

South Dakota authorities were about to charge former Secretary of Tourism and State Development Richard Benda with embezzlement and grand theft when he committed suicide last fall.

Attorney  General Marty Jackley made those charges public Tuesday in front of the legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee.

"On October 22, 2013, which is six days prior to the scheduled grand jury, state, federal, and local law enforcement authorities responded to Richard Benda's death in Charles Mix County,” Jackley told the committee.

Jackley says Benda - who served during Governor Mike Rounds' administration - inappropriately redirected state grant money.

Investigators believe he padded a grant meant for the Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen with an additional $550,000 just weeks before he left office. After taking a new job with the South Dakota Regional Center, Benda then allegedly convinced the company to pay him that money to monitor its EB-5 foreign investment loans.

"At the conclusion of our investigation I as Attorney General authorized the moving forward of a criminal complaint. I will tell you it is dated October 2013. It is unsigned because we were not quite to that stage yet. I will further tell you that it was not filed because of events that happened,” Jackley said Tuesday.

Those events were the discovery of Benda’s body on October 22, 2013 and the subsequent investigation that revealed he committed suicide.

Committee Will Not Subpoena Benda’s Old Boss

One of the main points of contention during Tuesday's hearing came when the only Democrat who was present at the meeting, Representative Susan Wismer (D) Britton, made a motion to subpoena Benda's former boss Joop Bollen.

The motion failed when Wismer failed to garner one lawmaker to second the move.

"We have deliberately avoided talking to the highest officials in the Rounds, Daugaard administration who oversaw this project. We're like sheriffs who don't want to bring in the witness,” Wismer told the committee when the motion failed.

Though the state has severed ties with Bollen, Wismer says the committee isn't doing its job if it doesn't call him to testify.

"I believe this committee still hasn't visited with the one person who is still alive who dealt with this program,” Wismer said.

Larry Tidemann, the chairman of the Republican-dominated committee, says state agents have already interviewed Bollen during their criminal investigation.

"I think we have to look at what they have provided us and what would we garner if we were to bring him in?" Tidemann said after the meeting.

Tidemann also points out that the committee has directed changes within state government including new background check and travel reimbursement policies.

The committee is also considering conflict-of-interest legislation that would prevent state employees from working in new jobs that get state grants for one year. It’s an effort to prevent former workers from committing the same acts Benda is accused of carrying out.

"We can't correct mistakes of the past but we can correct things for the future," Tidemann said.

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