Members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee have brought forward two bills that appear to target the gross conflicts of interest in South Dakota's EB-5 visa investment program. GOAC only glancingly acknowledged these violations of state law and policy and blamed what little it acknowledged on the dead Richard Benda while ignoring the violations committed by the very much alive and enriched EB-5 czar Joop Bollen.

One bill would make things better. One bill would make things worse. Guess which one GOAC members appear to prefer?

House Bill 1023 was the first Benda-Bollen bill submitted by Rep. G. Mark Mickelson (R-13/Sioux Falls) and six other 2014 GOAC members who returned to Pierre this session. It amends SDCL 5-18A-17 to extend an existing conflict-of-interest prohibition on state contracts (which already bans the kind of goofy contract Bollen signed with himself in January 2008) to cover state officials and employees for one year after they leave office (which would have banned Richard Benda's golden parachute with Bollen's state-contracted EB-5 management company SDRC Inc.). HB 1023 is short, simple, and sensible.

Rep. Mickelson threw his second Benda-Bollen bill, House Bill 1064, into the hopper just today. It has the same seven sponsors, plus Senator Deb Peters (R-9/Hartford). HB 1064 repeals the statute that HB 1023 amends, indicating this later Benda-Bollen bill is meant to replace the first. HB 1064 amends and expands SDCL 3-16 to ban self-dealing contracts as well as define exactly what kinds of "interests" the state will consider conflicts.

But check out the power Section 5 gives to the Governor and other executives to make exceptions:

A governing body may authorize an officer or employee whose responsibilities include approving, reviewing, or negotiating a contract on behalf of a state agency or supervising any employee who has these responsibilities to be a party to or derive direct benefits from a contract if:

  1. The governing body has reviewed the essential terms of the transaction or contract and the state officer's or employee's role in the contract or transaction; and
  2. The transaction and the terms of the contract are fair, reasonable, not contrary to the public interest, and fully disclosed in writing to the governing body.

The authorization, which may not be unreasonably withheld by the governing body, shall be in writing. The governing body may adopt a written plan to manage any perceived, potential, or real conflicts of interest associated with the state officer's or employee's role in a contract or transaction.

Any authorization given pursuant to this section is a public record. Each authorization shall be filed with the commissioner of the Bureau of Human Resources, who shall compile the authorizations and present them annually for review by the Government Operations and Audit Committee [House Bill 1064, Section 5, as published 2015.01.20].

House Bill 1064 defines conflicts of interest, extends the prohibitions against them, then grants the Governor, the Attorney General, and other Pierre potentates the power to pish-posh those prohibitions.

As an anti-bonus, Section 3 says the one-year post-employment extension only applies to contracts that would benefit the state official or employee in question to the tune of $100K or more. In other words, use your state job to write yourself a private contract that kicks in after you leave Pierre, and as long as you limit your pay to $99,999.99, you're in the clear.

Making sure we look out for our friends, Section 4 further dilutes the conflict-of-interest prohibitions by exempting state officers and employees whose ownership interest in a contracting entity is only 5% or less and by narrowing the definition of "direct benefit":

A state officer or employee does not derive a direct benefit from a contract based solely on the value associated with the officer's or employee's investments or holdings, or the investments or holdings of other adults with whom the state officer or employee lives and commingles assets, in an entity that is a party to the contract provided the officer or employee does not meet the requirement contained in subdivision (1) of this section [HB 1064, Section 4].

Call this the Skjonsberg Provision: last October, Lee Fang of The Nation discovered that Rob Skjonsberg, manager of the Rounds for Senate campaign, had cast a vote on the state Board of Economic Development to invest state dollars in Novita LLC, a company in which his investment company Lake Sharpe Investments had an interest. Skjonsberg said there was only a perception of conflict of interest, and state officials backed him up, saying Skjonsberg did not have a direct interest in Novita LLC. But the above passage of HB 1064 seems crafted to make explicit the fact that no, really, high rollers on the Board of Economic Development can keep voting money to projects in their indirect portfolios.

Both bills have been referred to ouse Judiciary, which Rep. Mickelson chairs. We'll see if he uses his position there to withdraw the simpler, stricter HB 1023 and promote the diluted, exemption-riddled HB 1064.

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In my Top 30 Stories of 2014 post this morning, I noted that I wrote 172 blog posts about EB-5 this year. Here comes #173.

I would never have devoted 11% of my 2014 blog output to the EB-5 visa investment program if hadn't been for one man, a man who dictated much of this blog's focus without lifting a finger or uttering a word... because that man was dead.

Richard Benda in happier times, the Philippines, September 2012.

Richard Benda in happier times, the Philippines, September 2012.

Richard Benda died of a gunshot wound on October 20, 2013. His unexpected and suspicious death prompted Governor Dennis Daugaard to reveal the existence last year of a federal investigation into activities that took place in the Governor's Office of Economic Development while Benda headed that office. That revelation drove media attention throughout 2014. We learned that Benda had diverted more than half a million dollars from state assistance to one EB-5 project, Northern Beef Packers, into his own pocket. But we also learned, among other things, that...

  1. ...the head of South Dakota's EB-5 program, Joop Bollen, signed a contract with himself in 2008 to assign his duties as a state employee to his own private company, where he could turn his work for the state into millions of dollars in fees;
  2. ...Bollen attempted to conceal a lawsuit against the state triggered by his own EB-5 activities in 2007 and 2008;
  3. ...Bollen and his associate James Park, neither of whom is licensed to practice law in or on behalf of the state of South Dakota, unsuccessfully litigated that lawsuit themselves in 2008;
  4. ...Northern State University, the Board of Regents, the Attorney General, and the Governor's office knew Bollen had committed these infractions;
  5. ...Governor Mike Rounds ignored all of these known violations and at the end of 2009 granted Bollen a lucrative no-bid contract worth potentially hundreds of millions of dollars to completely privatize the state's EB-5 program.
  6. ...Bollen made possible the half-million-plus golden parachute that Benda took from GOED to Northern Beef Packers.
  7. ...Benda and Bollen tried to arrange EB-5 investment money for the Hyperion refinery (a doomed project) and the Keystone XL pipeline (which already has all the funding necessary and for which EB-5 money would have represented no added value for the pipeline or South Dakota other than the millions that Bollen and Benda would have skimmed in EB-5 fees).

EB-5 czar Joop Bollen committed several violations of state law and policy. Senate candidate and former governor Mike Rounds knew about those violations and continued to reward and defend Bollen.

But now, the very official word, from the Governor, the former Governor now Senator-Elect, the Attorney General, and the Government Operations and Audit Committee of the South Dakota Legislature, is that no one but Richard Benda did anything wrong in South Dakota's EB-5 program.

The research I've done, the conversations I've had, and the extraordinary efforts Mike Rounds and Marty Jackley and Larry Tidemann have undertaken to blame Richard Benda tell me that "Benda did it" is not the whole story, and maybe not even a true story.

Richard Benda could have told us many things to dispel that story. He could have told us what Joop Bollen and James Park were doing to Northern Beef Packers' finances in 2009. Richard Benda could have told us how Northern Beef made $95 million in EB-5 investment disappear into bankruptcy. He could have shared with us—with GOAC, with the FBI—his conversations with Bollen, Park, and Rounds during his tenure as GOED secretary. He could have told us what events carried him from the seemingly happy days of jet-setting to Southeast Asia and the Philippines through 2012 down to being pushed out of Northern Beef Packers and off the EB-5 gravy train in early 2013, bouncing from a consulting job in Sioux Falls to Russ Olson's old job at Heartland in Madison, and ultimately alone (we assume) to a shelterbelt near Lake Andes, where (we are told) he took his own life with a shotgun blast to his gut.

Maybe Benda saw the fix was in. Maybe he didn't think he could beat the evidence the state had against him, real or not. Maybe he saw himself out of the inner circle and all of the people who could have helped him beholden to power and money. Maybe he foresaw perfectly before that fatal shot that his former friends in the SDGOP would put EB-5 in one neat box and bury it with him. Maybe his death said, "Cory, forget EB-5. You can't beat these guys."

I spent this year trying to piece together the story Benda wouldn't tell, the story that would shift some of the blame piled on his defenseless corpse onto the shoulders of those still living and rolling in their ill-gotten EB-5 gains.

In practical terms, I failed. The GOP won its immediate objective: blow smoke on EB-5, win the election, keep GOP hands on all the levels of power we can keep a lid on the story. No one—not Bob Mercer, not Denise Ross, not Kathy Tyler and Patrick Duffy and the Democratic Party—managed to part that smoke with a narrative clear enough to explain to South Dakota voters that EB-5 was built on an absurd and illegal conflict of interest and that our next Senator Mike Rounds knew that and was fine with that.

And Joop Bollen remains a free man, unindicted by a curiously incurious Attorney General.

EB-5 killed Richard Benda. EB-5 did not kill the South Dakota Republican Party that hung Benda out to dry. But EB-5 still epitomizes the corruption and cover-ups of South Dakota's one-party rule. EB-5 remains a story that needs to be told. Richard Benda's unusual and suspicious death rightly riveted my attention and many others' on the EB-5 story in 2014. In that regard, Richard Benda is thus, sadly, the man of the year in South Dakota politics.

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Attorney General Marty Jackley held a press conference in Sisseton Friday to discuss the details and conclusions of the state's investigation of the November 22, 2014 murder-suicide that shocked Sisseton and briefly put the entire tri-state area on alert. AG Jackley confirmed that Colter Arbach shot and injured Karissa DogEagle and shot and killed Vernon Renville Jr., Angela Adams, Candice Labelle.

DogEagle was Arbach's girlfriend. In the wee hours of November 22, he punched her three times. DogEagle's three friends took her outside to a car. Arbach followed and fired 18 rounds from a .223 rifle and three rounds from a 12-gauge shotgun. Arbach shot Renville, Adams, and Labelle dead at the car; he shot DogEagle several times in the back as she returned to the house. According to this shooting diagram released by the Department of Criminal Investigations, Arbach shot himself in the driveway.

Arbach shooting crime scene diagram, prepared by Special Agent Jeff Kollars, SD Department of Criminal Investigation, 2014.11.22 (click to enlarge).

Arbach shooting crime scene diagram, prepared by Special Agent Jeff Kollars, SD Department of Criminal Investigation, 2014.11.22 (click to enlarge).

The detailed information Attorney General Jackley released Friday raises three questions:

  1. AG Jackley said nothing (at least nothing published) about his office's failure to positively identify the dead shooter at the scene, an error that led law enforcement to unnecessarily alarm the public with warnings that Arbach was on the loose, armed and dangerous.
  2. The crime scene diagram identifies Item #22 at the foot of Arbach's corpse as a "Beretta 12 gauge semi-auto shotgun." The diagram and the Attorney General identify the other weapon, found in the front passenger seat of the white GMC, only as a .223 caliber rifle. Why does the AG specify the shotgun but not the rifle that did most of the rapid-fire killing? Is there a magic word we're not using to avoid grief for our NRA donors?
  3. This crime scene diagram offers significant detail about a crime about which there has been little public doubt. Why has Attorney General Marty Jackley not released a comparable crime scene diagram from his investigation of Richard Benda's death? With conflicting evidence and widespread public doubt about the plausibility of the official finding of suicide, it would behoove the Attorney General all the more to release the crime scene diagram and other details, like those released Friday in the Arbach case, to assure the public that law enforcement has done its job.

Attorney General Jackley's openness in the Arbach shooting is admirable, if incomplete. AG Jackley should revisit the Benda shooting with similar openness.

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  • chimpsSenator Larry Tidemann, Chair
  • Senator Phyllis Heineman
  • Senator Jean Hunhoff
  • Senator Blake Curd
  • Senator Larry Lucas
  • Representative Dan Dryden, Vice Chair
  • Representative Melissa Magstadt
  • Representative Justin Cronin
  • Representative Mark Mickelson
  • Representative Susan Wismer

These ten South Dakota legislators, the current members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee (GOAC), are responsible for a farcical travesty of legislative inquiry and public accountability. These ten legislators have foisted on South Dakotans the insult masquerading as a report fulfilling their duty to investigate the Governor's Office of Economic Development and South Dakota's troubled EB-5 visa investment program.

Lied to by former governor and now Senator-Elect Mike Rounds, bamboozled by lawbreaking EB-5 profiteer Joop Bollen, and spun by the shifting story of Attorney General Marty Jackley, these ten legislators have shrugged and endorsed the cowardly, sandy-headed fall-guy narrative that dead and defenseless Richard Benda was the source of all ills in the GOED/EB-5 scandal. GOAC essentially rewrote the campaign propaganda that the South Dakota Republican Party sent to tamp down concerns about EB-5 in October.

The report rubber-stamps the audits and reforms discussed last winter, before GOAC received its legislative charge to investigate GOED and EB-5. It accepts without challenge the Swiss-cheese stories told by Rounds and Bollen. The only new work products produced by GOAC itself are two pieces of legislation that would tighten conflict-of-interest restrictions on state employees and make those restrictions last for one year after an employee leaves the state payroll. Even in proposing those modest reforms (the sort of no-duh rules that we should be embarrassed that we don't already have), GOAC focuses solely on Benda's alleged crimes and completely ignores Bollen's conflict-of-interest violations that cost the state millions.

GOAC makes its stonewalling stupidity clearest on page 5 of its report. Making hay of Richard Benda's diversion of $550,000 from Future Fund Grant #1434 (a grant Mike Rounds signed for Northern Beef Packers, with Benda pressing, knowing that Benda was going to be involved with the beef plant when he left Pierre, which facts trouble GOAC not one whit), GOAC mentions that it asked Bollen about how that chunk of the grant got converted into Benda's hefty pay as NBP's EB-5 loan monitor.

When asked about the $550,000 loan monitoring fee collected by Richard Benda from NBP, Mr. Bollen stated that he had no specific knowledge of Richard Benda collecting the loan monitoring fee [GOAC final report, 2014.11.28, p. 5].

This reading of Bollen's comments is incorrect and inconsistent with GOAC's own bogus conclusions. In his arrogant and cynical written response to GOAC after the election (oh, did I mention conveniently delayed?), Bollen said he set up the loan monitor job for Benda [page 9]. Bollen said Benda worked for Bollen's EB-5 management company, SDRC Inc. [Question 15, p. 13]. When GOAC asked Bollen how SDRC Inc. compensated Benda, Bollen said "Mr. Benda was paid pursuant to the terms of a contract for loan monitoring the NBP project, which was required under the loan with NBP. The terms of the contract contain private business information" [Question 8, p. 12]. Bollen's response that he had "no specific knowledge" of "how and why... Benda [was] involved in collecting the loan monitoring fee" [Question 20, p. 14] was at best legalistic if not patently absurd: he created the loan monitor job, hired Benda, and knew the terms of the contract well enough to choose to hide them from GOAC.

Bollen knows exactly how and why Benda collected his hundreds of thousands of dollars. He hid that information, and GOAC went "Ro-de-do-de-do, we don't need to know!"

To top off their obtusity, Tidemann and friends ignore Bollen's dismissal of their whole Benda-as-fall-guy thesis. Bollen cites NBP lawyer Rory King's argument, floated to Bob Mercer a year ago, that the loan-monitoring fees were perfectly legitimate. Senator Tidemann, when you simultaneously cite a source to support your thesis then ignore that source's rebuttal of your thesis, you come out looking like monkeys.

I hate to include the Democrats on this committee, Rep. Susan Wismer and Senator Larry Lucas, in the monkey pile. Rep. Wismer did expose GOAC's stonewalling and bring the EB-5 issue back to life last summer. Senator Lucas brought forth most of the substantive questions about Benda, Bollen, Rounds, and other players in the EB-5 scam, but he also strangely and incorrectly declared Senator Tidemann's conduct of the GOAC hearings "fair and non-partisan." Senator Lucas says he's considering filing a minority report, although why he and Rep. Wismer haven't already written that report and demanded its inclusion on the record is beyond me.

But this shame falls on all ten members of the Government Operations and Audit Committee, on all of a Legislature that accepts Chairman Tidemann's conclusion that "no further action was necessary," and on all of South Dakota, for electing such gutless, incurious, and feckless legislators.

Update 06:15 CST: Senator Lucas tells AP that minority report will happen, along with a call for a special prosecutor and further GOAC investigation. But he also says "it’s our due diligence as state officials to make sure we have covered all our bases in the matter" and that "Right now I’d say we’re about on third base." Third base? I don't know what puritans Larry's been making out with, but in my backseat, GOAC hasn't even gotten to first.

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Joop Bollen is trying to distract the Government Operations and Audit Committee from his illegitimate contract with himself, his apparent mismanagement of Northern Beef Packers, and his multiple violations of state policy and law by claiming that reporters like Denise Ross and Bob Mercer have wrecked South Dakota's chances of making more money from the EB-5 visa investment program.

Joop Bollen appears to forget that Governor Dennis Daugaard yanked Bollen's contract and put EB-5 on ice before any journalists started digging into South Dakota's EB-5 program. Bollen's own narrative to GOAC suggests that many in the state wanted to back away from the "liabilities" of EB-5 (which were what, Joop, if everything was being run properly?) back in 2009; the program hung on only because Bollen, Richard Benda, and the Governor's Office wanted to keep that money train rolling. Bollen ignores the fact that South Dakota at his behest (and with Mike Rounds's support) gave up the key competitive advantage of public, state-run status for its EB-5 program, making it harder for us to stand out among the growing number of EB-5 Regional Centers.

Maybe Bollen should switch to blaming Obama. Monday, the President announced that the U.S. will offer new, longer visitor visas to Chinese citizens. Starting today (November 12), tourist and business visas for Chinese visitors jump from one year to ten years. Student and exchange visas stretch from one year to five years.

Keep in mind that one attraction of EB-5 visas has been for wealthy Chinese to buy their kids' way into the country so they can attend American universities. But EB-5 visas cost $500K in at-risk investment plus tens of thousands in fees for lawyers and middlemen like Joop Bollen. President Obama's visitor visas don't give permanent residency the way an EB-5 visa can, but five years on an extended visa for a $160 application fee might sound like a bargain to a lot of folks considering EB-5.

South Dakota reporters are not killing EB-5. South Dakota has lost its EB-5 edge due to decisions made by South Dakota's EB-5 czar and his collaborators in state government. The President's new visa deal with China may reduce EB-5 demand even further.

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Lawyers for Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard, and other subjects of Jeff Barth's legal action to stop destruction of EB-5 records filed their responses this week. The defendants contend that Minnehaha County Commissioner Barth has no standing, there are no records, yadda yadda.

Commissioner Barth's lawsuit is a legal longshot. But it has already produced some results worth discussing. First, Assistant Attorney General Roxanne Giedd says she has issued litigation hold letters to state agencies that may have records related to the state's EB-5 program. That means that, thanks to Barth's legal action, the Governor's Office of Economic Development, the Board of Regents, the Attorney General's office, and others will hang onto valuable information in the EB-5 case, which now stretches back ten years.

Northern State University counsel John Meyer tells the court that AAG Giedd's litigation hold isn't necessary to keep Regental docs locked up; he says that the Regents and NSU are already preserving documents related to EB-5 because of their ongoing litigation in Darley v SDIBI. Meyer issued a litigation hold to NSU chief information officer Debbi Bumpous after learning of the Darley litigation that EB-5 chief Joop Bollen had concealed from NSU for months. The Meyer hold went out on February 10, 2009.

Now let's slow down and think for a moment. A county commissioner files a lawsuit to preserve state EB-5 records. The AG's office immediately issues orders to preserve relevant state EB-5 records. Those orders likely go out to the offices directly involved with EB-5, including the Governor's Office of Economic Development.

In January 2009, the state found out Darley, a California company, had taken it to court over EB-5. NSU's lawyer sent out an order to his campus's computer gurus to preserve EB-5 documents, but NSU wasn't in charge of EB-5. Meyer says GOED ran EB-5. Meyer would surely have wanted GOED to hold any documents that could help him and the Regents fight off the Darley litigation. If Meyer lacked the authority to issue such a litigation hold to GOED, surely the attorney general could have issued that letter. Meyer corresponded with the attorney general's office about Darley in early February 2009, before issuing his February 10, 2009, hold order to NSU's CIO. An AG's office doing its due diligence would have joined Meyer in preserving all relevant documents, which leads to the logical conclusion that Jeff Hallem, the assistant AG corresponding with Meyer, would have issued a letter like Giedd's to GOED.

And if GOED got a litigation hold letter like Meyer's in February 2009, and if that hold is still in effect for GOED as Meyer's still is for NSU, then someone, somewhere, should have a thumb drive or tape or box of papers preserving any EB-5-related e-mails that GOED would have sent or received. That drive/tape/box would include the e-mails of then-GOED director Richard Benda.

Governor Daugaard's office said last month that it had deleted GOED Secretary Benda's e-mail account perhaps as early as February 2011, after Benda left state government.

By this reasoning, we may conclude either that Governor Daugaard's office misinformed us or that at some point in early 2011, the Daugaard administration erased e-mails that would have been subject to a litigation hold order.Meter's February 10, 2009, litigation order would have preserved any e-mails Secretary Benda sent to Bollen on the NSU servers. Whether Benda's entire e-mail archive is still available depends on the answers to these two questions:

  1. Did GOED receive a litigation hold order in 2009 pertaining to the Darley lawsuit?
  2. Did GOED follow that order?
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The Washington Post has already picked up today's big story about Mike Rounds's admission that he knew his economic development chief Richard Benda was planning to cash in on the EB-5 funded Northern Beef Packers project that he and Rounds had promoted and did not question that conflict of interest. "New Development in Scandal Dogging Mike Rounds Could Spell More Trouble," headlines WaPo for all those national readers and potential donors. Dogging... more trouble... thank you, sir, may I please have another?

But now I see why some of my readers were initially so grouchy about that Sioux Falls paper's coverage of the story. The original headline posted online overnight* and on the printed front page is "Benda 'Misled' Me, Says Rounds."

That Sioux Falls paper, clip from front page of print edition, 2014.10.22

That Sioux Falls paper, clip from front page of print edition, 2014.10.22

At some point this morning, the editorial board realized the bigger story was not Rounds's continued effort to blame the dead guy (on the first anniversary of Governor Dennis Daugaard's get-ahead-of-the-story announcement that Richard Benda had been found dead of a gunshot wound), but Rounds's admission of silent complicity in Benda's (and Bollen's!) $550,000 gambit. "Rounds knew of Benda conflict in final days of term," reads the updated headline.

Dear readers, I'm interested to hear what you think of that Sioux Falls paper's evolving editorial position on this story.

Bonus Legs: As October Surprises keep rolling, KELO's Ben Dunsmoor wakes up and offers a one-sentence scoop: the FBI is still investigating South Dakota's EB-5 program.

*Update 17:08 CDT: Mr. Montgomery tells me the web headline hasn't changed since posted the story to his blog section of the paper's website last night. But just after midnight, someone at the copy desk posted the Benda-focused headline:

Earlier online headline, screen cap of Google Cache version of Montgomery's Rounds-Benda story, 2014.10.22 00:24 CDT

Earlier online headline, screen cap of Google Cache version of Montgomery's Rounds-Benda story, 2014.10.22 00:24 CDT

That's the version folks were sending me at breakfast. That online version has gone poof, leaving only the print world thinking the main point of the story is that Benda was naughty.

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Some of my readers think David Montgomery has sold out to the good-old-boys' network on whom he and his employer depend for access and advertising dollars.

If that were the case, I don't think that Sioux Falls paper would slap this headline on Montgomery's latest EB-5 report:

Rounds knew of Benda conflict in final days of term

This headline comes not from diligent investigative reporting but from Mike Rounds's own mouth. The Republican Senate candidate said in yesterday's live interview with 100 Eyes that he knew Richard Benda, his economic development chief, was going to work for an "investor" in Northern Beef Packers, the stalled economic development project toward which he directed $2.36 million in state grants during the last few weeks of his governorship.

Benda didn't identify which investor he would be working for, and Rounds said he didn't press. Benda went to work for SDRC Inc., a company managing EB-5 foreign investments for projects, including Northern Beef. On Tuesday, Rounds said he now feels Benda "misled" him by not disclosing where he was going.

At the time, though, Rounds didn't ask Benda for more details.

"I said 'Good, I'm glad to hear that he's going to be actively involved in the beef plant,'" Rounds said in a live interview on the Argus Leader's "100 Eyes" online show.

Rounds' focus at the time, he said, was on which of his Cabinet secretaries "should I meet with to find out if they need assistance in finding other opportunities" — not whether they were "leaving government with a conflict of interest," as Argus Leader managing editor Patrick Lalley asked Rounds. Benda already had lined up a job, so Rounds said he focused attention elsewhere [David Montgomery, "Rounds Knew of Benda Conflict in Final Days of Term," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.10.22].

Permit me to paint a managerial scenario, and you tell me whether I'm viewing the situation with hindsight or South Dakota common sense:

  1. I'm an outgoing governor, tying up loose ends in the Capitol.
  2. Among the loose ends are various fiscal and policy decisions to keep one of my marquee legacy projects alive. It's running over two years late and way over budget.
  3. I'm taking a risk writing some pretty big checks to keep the legacy project alive.
  4. I can't afford any bad press dragging this precarious project down.
  5. I find out one of my cabinet members who's been key in saving that project is now going to work for that project.
  6. I say, "Wait a minute, Richard. What exactly are you going to be doing for the project?" I listen closely. If I sense any hedging, I say "Cut the crap" and get the full story.
  7. Whatever answers I get, I think ahead to appearances, if not legal questions, and I say to my cabinet member, "I think it's best that, for these last couple weeks, we put a big brick wall between you and any policy decisions affecting the folks you're going to work for."
  8. I review all of the checks and other papers I've signed over the past few weeks for the project and make sure everything looks kosher.
  9. And above all, I make sure my guy going to work for the project is not the guy who carries the million-dollar state check to that project.

Rounds gets to my step 5, then veers off the road of good management, saying, Rich has a job? Great! Now I can focus on helping all my other pals get golden parachutes.

Rounds said at Dakotafest in August that if he'd known what Benda had been up to with respect to Northern Beef Packers and EB-5, he'd have fired Benda. In yesterday's interview, Rounds said, "Richard Benda did some things in the last couple of weeks (of Rounds' term) that I did not know about, and that I'd like to ask him questions about." But when Benda was right in front of him, and the issues all hot on his plate, Governor Rounds chose not to ask.

And the day Mike Rounds didn't ask Richard Benda those questions at the end of 2010 may have been the day that Mike Rounds lost the election of 2014.

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