One of the things that stuck out to me in the Auditor General's review of the Governor's Office of Economic Development was Finding #3, which said that GOED chief Richard Benda had received reimbursement for $14,700 for "translation services" in the Philippines.

I review the voucher files and find the handwritten "invoice" the Auditor General Guindon mentions. Four men—Jose Reyes, Juan de la Cruz, Romeo Chavez, and Mark Andrew—evidently got $1,200 cash for translation and interpretation. That "invoice" is scrawled on stationary from the City Garden Hotel in Makati.

I would love to know what exactly they translated and interpreted. But what still has me wondering is... the Philippines? What the heck was Richard Benda doing in the Philippines?

The GOED vouchers show that Richard Benda traveled to the Philippines four times in a six-month period from December 2009 to May 2010. These trips usually took place in conjunction with trips to China to recruit investors for EB-5 projects, most prominently the then-floundering Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen. Benda made two trips just to China in July and November 2009. But the December trip took a four-day detour, from December 21 to 24, to Manila, with Benda purchasing his plane tickets and hotel rooms on Expedia while in China.

Benda returned to the Philippines March 22 through March 26, April 26 through May 1, and May 13 through 30. That May trip is complicated: Benda first went from Sioux Falls to Manila, then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (yes, Vietnam) on May 18. He hopped up to China May 19 through 24, then flew back to Manila to stay until May 30.

The May trip includes a receipt from the My Boracay resort showing a stay the nights of May 15 and 16 and a receipt from the Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa for a stay the night of May 25. Both of those receipts indicate payment for one room with two adults. The receipts do not indicate Benda's companion was one of his translators.

The itemized lists accompanying these receipts indicate that Benda met with numerous potential EB-5 investors in the Philippines. He wined and dined them at various places, include the Café Havana in the Greenbelt 3 development in Makati. I find at least three receipts from Café Havana:

  • April 28, 2010, 02:05, $76.11
  • April 29, 2010, 01:31, $43.27
  • May 17, 2010, 20:20, $25.48

Benda didn't throw a lot of cash around at Café Havana, at least not cash that he asked for the taxpayers to reimburse, but he spent some of it late into the evening (jet lag, right?).

It may be worth noting that Café Havana is a "go-go bar" (welcome to the first appearance of that phrase on this blog) in Makati, the financial center of the Philippines. The City Garden Hotel, where the translators' invoice originated, is a four-minute walk from Makati's red-light district.

Last puzzle piece for the morning: Just prior to his last trip to the Philippines on the state's dime (the vouchers show no further trips overseas by Benda after he returned from Manila at the end of May 2010), Benda spent May 7 and 8 in Deadwood, apparently discussing EB-5 money for the Deadwood Mountain Grand Casino. The vouchers indicate that Benda changed his Delta flight ticket on May 8. He left for that last Philippines trip May 13.

No Philippine EB-5 investors have been identified in the more prominently discussed bankrupt EB-5 projects of Northern Beef Packers and the Veblen dairies. Philippine investors have not made news in any other South Dakota EB-5 projects. I am thus curious to learn whether Benda's burst of interest in the Philippines from December 2009 to May 2010 translated into more EB-5 money for South Dakota projects or if that effort went the fruitless way of Benda's Hyperion exertions.