Officials at the bankrupt Aberdeen beef plant confirm that federal authorities are investigating its finances.
The news was reported by the Associated Press less than 24 hours after Governor Dennis Daugaard said the state economic development office is the target of a federal investigation. That office put up millions in financing for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant in 2010.
Daugaard says the alleged financial misconduct didn't happen during his administration. There is a five year statute of limitations on most federal cases which puts the bullseye on 2008, 2009, and 2010; the last three years of Governor Mike Rounds administration.
Richard Benda headed the South Dakota Tourism and State Development Office at the time and helped get the packing plant project moving.
Lawmakers KELOLAND News talked to Thursday say they are learning all these details right along with the rest of the public.
Senate Majority Leader Tim Rave says he has not been briefed on the situation and just learned of it Wednesday, but says that’s not out of the ordinary.
"I suspect that had a lot to do with it being an investigation and of course they wouldn't be able to tell us anything other than there's an investigation going on," Rave said.
House Minority Leader Bernie Hunhoff says he's just hearing about it, too.
"It's really in the hands of the investigators and we shouldn't be meddling in that," Hunhoff said Thursday.
While Hunhoff and other Democrats have been critical of the economic development office, he says he never thought there was anything criminal happening in the capitol.
"It would be better if there is more sunshine on the process, more people at the table and we're moving in that direction," Hunhoff said.
As head of the South Dakota Department of Tourism and State Development Benda was involved in the $5 million loan given to the Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen. It went bankrupt this summer.
Last week, Benda was found dead of a gunshot wound in a tree grove in Lake Andes. Authorities are still trying to figure out whether his death was an accident, suicide, or if foul play was involved. His obituary lists Northern Beef as his employer after he left his post in Pierre in 2010.
As the investigation continues, lawmakers say they will wait along with the public before deciding whether changes need to be made to avoid news like this again.
"Let this thing play out and at the end if there's something take the appropriate steps to make sure it doesn't happen again," Rave said.
"We just need to take a deep breath and let the investigators do their thing because we don't know that anything wrong has been done and I would have a real hard time believing anything intentionally wrong was done," Hunhoff said.
The Associated Press reports the federal investigation of the beef plant's finances focuses on a program called EB-5 which attempts to attract foreign investors with the promise of easier immigration.