"We're debt-free!" shouts Dakota Turkey Growers. According to a press release processed by the Huron Plainsman today, the Huron turkey plant has paid off the loan it received in 2009. That loan was $55 million dollars from 110 foreign investors seeking EB-5 visas.

Dakota Turkey Growers eagerly celebrates the EB-5 program:

According to Dakota Turkey Growers officials, the Federal EB-5 Program was instrumental in helping it grow a profitable business, which currently provides direct jobs to over 800 workers in Huron.

The officials went on to say that the availability of EB-5 funds was pivotal in Dakota Turkey Growers’ operations and success and that former Governor Mike Rounds was also very supportive of and assisted in the start-up of Dakota Turkey Growers [staff report, "Dakota Turkey Growers Fulfills Federal EB-5 Obligation in Full," Huron Plainsman, 2014.10.31].

Worth noting: Jeff Sveen, who has served as chairman of the board and corporate agent for Dakota Turkey Growers, has contributed $3,000 to the Rounds for Senate campaign. Brenda Rutledge, who I'm going to take a wild guess and say is the wife of Dakota Provisions (corporate names are fluid here) CEO Kenneth Rutledge, has given Rounds for Senate another $1,000.

Remember that EB-5 money is supposed to create jobs. We learned last fall that this big EB-5 loan did no such thing; it simply replaced debt that Dakota Provisions had already used to build and start its Huron turkey plant.

South Dakota's EB-5 impresario Joop Bollen was working on this EB-5 deal for Jeff Sveen and his turkey plant friends in 2008. In a February 6, 2008, e-mail to Chinese EB-5 recruiter Linda He, Bollen explained why Dakota Provisions was a guaranteed win for EB-5 applicants:

The most important issue, I believe, is that this project is already in operation and therefore all the start-up cost and risks are gone [Joop Bollen, e-mail to Linda He, 2008.02.06].

Hold on there—EB-5 recruiters aren't supposed to guarantee returns. EB-5 investments are supposed to be at risk.

Yet Bollen affirms that EB-5 investors can't lose money, because the Hutterite owners have tons of money to protect the project:

Frank [Lin, EB-5 recruiter] also might have explained that the turkey plant is owned by 40 plus Hutterite colonies which have very deep pockets and would never let this plant go as their turkey industry would be in deep trouble if they loose [sic] the plant. The colonies would commit financial suicide for their turkey growers if the plant were lost [Bollen to He, 2008.02.06].

Bollen adds this assertion of solid business performance:

Additionally it is important to realize that the project is currently being financed by US Banks which are very happy with the performance of the project [Bollen to He, 2008.02.06].

Put the Hutterite and bank comments together. Bollen is telling his recruiter that the plant is running fine and that it has a huge capital reserve to draw on to deal with any problems. Bollen is essentially saying that Dakota Provisions was doing just fine and was on course to create jobs without any EB-5 money. Like so much else about the Bollen-Rounds EB-5 program, this claim of solvency, along with the darn-near guarantee, sounds fishy.

And fishmonger Bollen knew he had to be careful with what he said about Dakota Provisions. Consider this response to a question from recruiter He's question about obtaining a third-party guarantee on the investments:

The project already would be collateralized mcuh more than what is demanded by commercial banks and therefore it would be somewhat insulting to request this from the plant, not to mention US immigration law which might frown on the guarantee! As you might recall, the EB-5 monies have to be at risk and a guarantee might raise a serious red flag [Bollen to He, 2008.02.06].

Bollen even says in so many words that they shouldn't spread their plan around in too much detail to U.S. observers:

In fact, I am somewhat concerned that those banks might become quite upset once they their [sic] loans are being replaced with EB-5 monies (We should keep this fact somewhat confidential from a US perspective).... In addition, the State of South Dakota also lent $3,000,000 which they would not have done unless the loan officers felt comfortable [Bollen to He, 2008.02.06].

The money local banks lost in this EB-5 loan replacement also meant revenue lost by the State of South Dakota, since Bollen's EB-5 shadow corporation, SDRC Inc., paid no bank franchise tax on the EB-5 loans it arranged.

So yes, congratulations, Dakota Turkey Growers on exploiting a federal visa investment program you didn't really need, whose conditions for new job creation you didn't really fulfill, and which you are now inflating into fabricated cover for your favored political candidate, Mike Rounds, from the monkeyshines Joop Bollen used to line his pockets and the pockets of Mike Rounds's friends.

34 comments

Before we pass a regressive tax to increase teacher pay, I know where we can get $13 million to boost our K-12 budget: Joop Bollen's pocket.

Doing some excellent math, Denise Ross figures that Joop Bollen made $13 million in fees on EB-5 transactions in 2009 alone from the 99 foreign investors who kept the Dakota Provision turkey plant in Huron afloat. Bollen made this money processing those foreign investments through his private company, SDRC Inc., into a loan package for his lawyer Jeff Sveen's favorite turkey factory.

Funny thing is, SDRC Inc. did this work under a 2008 memorandum of understanding signed with the South Dakota International Business Institute, the state office that Joop Bollen directed as a public employee from 1994 until the end of 2009. Even if we overlook the absurdity and conflictuality of Bollen's signing this no-bid contract with his own nascent company, there is one other glaring problem with the SDIBI-SDRC Inc. deal: Bollen had no authority to sign this contract. Bollen was technically an employee of the Board of Regents on the Northern State University campus. According to testimony in the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration from NSU counsel John Meyer and BOR counsel James Shekleton, no one ever granted Joop Bollen or SDIBI contract-making authority. To have any legal force, the SDIBI-SDRC Inc. contract would have to have undergone review and approval by the Board of Regents.

In other words, Bollen expropriated the authority of NSU's then-president Patrick Schloss and absconded with $13 million made while he did illegal business from a state office.

That $13 million in fees isn't Bollen's. It's ours. It's time to send the Attorney General knocking on Bollen's door to get that money back.

48 comments

I have contended that in allowing Joop Bollen to privatize South Dakota's EB-5 program, Mike Rounds sacrificed a key competitive advantage that we had over other private EB-5 regional centers.

Robert Stratmore, head of EB-5 recruiter Darley International, agrees. In his testimony on Day 2 of the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration hearing last April, Stratmore said that the association of our EB-5 agency with the state made it easier to recruit Chinese investors for South Dakota projects:

I actually was quite attracted to the fact that not only was it Northern State University but that it was the state of South Dakota and that would give a leg up for credibility in China that it would be a mandate that was given from the federal government to a state government [Robert Stratmore, transcript, Darley v SDIBI arbitration hearing, 2014.04.29].

EB-5 chief Joop Bollen pressed this advantage even after completely privatizing the EB-5 operation, as indicated by Chinese press material from October 2010.

If we accept Mike Rounds's thesis that EB-5 is a good program, if we accept the idea that raising capital from foreign investors more interested in green cards than business results is healthy, then we should expect state government to run the EB-5 program as competitively as possible. Yet Mike Rounds gave up the official state control of EB-5 that an EB-5 recruiter said would draw more EB-5 money.

97 comments

In responses to reporter Bob Mercer's questions about South Dakota's EB-5 program, Mike Rounds downplayed his involvement in the EB-5-promoting South Dakota International Business Institute and his interaction with SDIBI director Joop Bollen:

[Mercer]: EB-5 began for dairy development in South Dakota in 2003. What was your role in that decision?

[Rounds]: I was aware of the desire to expand the federal program beyond dairy development.... I wasn't involved in the transactional details — but I did agree with the concept to create those jobs and diversify South Dakota's economy.

...[Mercer]: Joop Bollen was in charge of EB-5 and dairy development while he was employed at the South Dakota International Business Institute at Northern State University. How did you come to know him?

[Rounds]: I was aware of Mr. Bollen's early efforts to expand dairy development in South Dakota, and I have always been supportive of dairy development in our state. Direct interaction was limited updates on SDIBI's efforts came by way of staff reports [Bob Mercer, "Rounds Answers Reporter's Questions on EB-5 Scandal," Black Hills Pioneer, 2014.10.02].

Once again, Northern State University counsel John Meyer's sworn testimony in the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration contradicts Rounds's claims. On Day 3 of the Darley arbitration hearing, April 30, 2014, Darley attorney Jennifer Elkayam asked Meyer about several letters of agreement between SDIBI and the Governor's Office of Economic Development from 2005 to 2009. These letters laid out the economic development activities, including EB-5 visa investment recruitment and management, that GOED expected SDIBI to perform.

[Elkayam]: Can you explain, to your understanding or if you know, why GOED would not directly engage in these activities that SDIBI is called upon to perform under these letters of agreement?

[Meyer]: Well, I would say, in terms of the history of that office, these functions would have been performed by personnel employed within Tourism and State Development located in Pierre, but what happened was Joop Bollen was loaned under this cost reimbursement structure to GOED, and that's how SDIBI got involved

MS. ELKAYAM: I'm sorry. You said "loaned"?

THE WITNESS: "Loaned."

MR. [Darley Attorney Max] BLECHER: "Loaned."

MS. ELKAYAM: "Loaned" [transcript, Darley v. SDIBI JAMS arbitration hearing, Los Angeles, CA, 2014.04.30, pp. 484–485].

This loan piqued the interest of the arbitrator, the Honorable Robert A. Baines:

[Baines]: ...Who initiated this loaning process? Is it something that started at GOED and came to SDIBI for help, or was it the other way around where SDIBI proposed to the State Department that it would do these functions for a certain amount of money for the State?

[Meyer]: Judge, I don't know firsthand, but I, in my own mind, know what happened. I believe that idea came from the governor of South Dakota.

[Baines]: Okay.

[Meyer]: And I believe, based on a statement that Joop Bollen mentioned to me once, that he had gone down and interviewed with the governor.

I believe that's where that came from. So it would have emanated from the governor through Tourism and State Development and GOED to Northern --
were, in GOED or the State.

[Baines]: Uh-huh [Darley v. SDIBI, 2014.04.30, p. 486].

Uh-huh. Mike Rounds says he was "aware" of the things SDIBI did. John Meyer says Mike Rounds had the idea that sent SDIBI down the EB-5 path. Mike Rounds says he was "aware" of Joop Bollen's efforts but interacted only indirectly, through staff reports. John Meyer says Mike Rounds interviewed Joop Bollen personally in Pierre to get the program going.

14 comments

One of the main responses Mike Rounds has offered to revelations of misconduct in the state's EB-5 visa investment program is that he didn't run EB-5; the Board of Regents did.

Testimony under oath from Northern State University counsel John Meyer on April 24, 2014, in a deposition for the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration contradicts Rounds's statements:

[Darley attorney Jennifer Elkayam]: Or what entity provides SDIBI with the authority to conduct foreign direct investment activities?

[Meyer]: In the State of South Dakota, that area is handled and funded through the Governor's Office of Economic Development, which is a subbranch of the South Dakota Department of Tourism and Development [John Meyer, deposition, Darley v. SDIBI, Los Angeles, California, 2014.04.24, p. 23].

Agreements between GOED and NSU authorizing SDIBI's work show budget items from NSU, but Meyer says those items included little cash:

[Elkayam]: Did SDIBI ever receive funding from NSU at any point in time?

[Meyer]: Well, I notice here it mentions a cooperative effort. That cooperative effort was limited on NSU's part. I have observed, in some of the documentation, that NSU's contribution was roughly $100,000 per annum. The remainder of the budget, which would be much larger, would have come directly from "GOED" or GOED. I should also add that the bulk of that $100,000 contribution would be in provision of office space, the general overhead support, utility support, communication support, et cetera. I believe the actual cash infusion from NSU would be negligible [Meyer, 2014.04.24, p. 25].

Bollen testified in his April 16, 2014, deposition in Darley v. SDIBI that he answered to NSU Dean of Business Clyde Arnold but that such answering was generally limited to cc-ing Dean Arnold on monthly updates e-mailed directly to the Governor's Office of Economic Development. Elkayam asks Meyer about the chain of command:

[Elkayam]: Do you know whether Mr. Bollen reported to Dr. Arnold between 2007 and 2009?

[Meyer]: Actually, he reported to the titular head of the Department of Tourism and State Development or GOED, and I believe that position was sort of a two-hatted division of the secretary of that department [Meyer, 2014.04.24, p. 28].

The titular head of GOED during the specified time frame was Richard Benda.

Meyer says any accountability Bollen had to NSU was on minor accounting matters, not the core operations of the EB-5 program or SDIBI in general:

[Elkayam]: Who did Mr. Bollen report to within NSU between 2007 and 2009?

[Meyer]: Well, we're looking at "Operations" down there at the bottom of this current exhibit, and I would have to say that for operational purposes, for those functions, he reported to whoever was the titular head of the Department of State of Tourism and Development or, as I said, who would also be heading the GOED operations.

[Elkayam]: So no one within NSU?

[Meyer]: Not for operations.

[Elkayam]: For any other purpose?

[Meyer]: What -- what would occur is reconciliation of payroll expenditures. For instance, we just looked at this previous exhibit that's identified as 1(8). Obviously there would be some accounting reconciliations concerning his salary, travel, et cetera [Meyer, 2014.04.24, p. 34].

Meyer says Bollen submitted his primary budgets (the accuracy of which Bollen himself called into question in his deposition) and accounting information to GOED:

[Elkayam]: Did he [Bollen] ever submit any type of budgets for approval to anyone within NSU?

[Meyer] I don't believe he did, to my knowledge. I believe he submitted his budget requests and his accounting of expenditures to GOED [Meyer, 2014.04.24, pp. 34–35].

Meyer states under oath that he does not believe Bollen obtained authorization from anyone at NSU or the Board of Regents for his January 2008 SDIBI–SDRC Inc. contract [p. 45]. He says that the functions described in that contract exceeded the parameters of the SDIBI mission statement approved by the Regents in 1994 [p. 48] as well as the operating authority granted to SDIBI by GOED and the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service [p. 51]. Meyer also says that Bollen and SDIBI received no Regental authorization for memoranda of understanding sent to EB-5 investors [pp. 57–58].

Operating thus outside the bounds of granted authority, as exhibited by SDIBI's off-book partnership with the Hanul law firm, prompted a meeting involving  NSU's new president, Dr. James Smith, in 2009:

[Meyer]: ...there was a meeting that occurred at NSU between myself and Dr. Smith and Rich Benda and Joop Bollen and [V.P. finance and administration] Don Ehrlenbusch, and that meeting would have occurred in July of 2009.

[Elkayam]: And what did you talk about at that meeting?

[Meyer]: The -- you know, it's been five years now and the meeting was attended by myself, because I was asked to come, because there was a concern about the -- the employment of Hanul Law Firm. And there was also a concern at NSU about, shall I just say the activities that had been uncovered, and it was prompted by the transition between Dr. Laurie Nichols, who had been an interim president at Northern, and Dr. Smith's arrival, taking over her duties.

[Elkayam]: You said the employment of Hanul. Was that employment by SDIBI of Hanul?

[Meyer]: There was a concern that there had been no employment that any of us were aware of and that there should not have been [Meyer, 2014.04.24, pp. 56].

This July 2009 meeting fits the narrative that emerges from Bollen's deposition that NSU and the Regents may have been trying to shut SDIBI down and that only intervention from Benda and the Governor's Office of Economic Development kept Bollen and EB-5 going.

Meyer concludes that he does not believe that Bollen "was supervised by NSU in the sense that you would expect as an employee" [p. 73].

14 comments

Everything comes around....

In an October 10 blog post, Bob Mercer reported that the relationship between South Dakota's EB-5 czar Joop Bollen and Hanul Professional Law Corporation attorney James Park began in a Korean prison:

According to Park’s testimony, Park met Bollen during a failed attempt by Bollen to recruit in South Korea. Park said he helped get a NSU faculty member (who isn’t named) and a friend of the faculty member out of prison for a violation during their recruiting trip to South Korea. That led to Park and the Hanul firm becoming the prime recruiter worldwide for Bollen, except in China [Bob Mercer, "What Could the Rounds Campaign Have Done?" Pure Pierre Politics, 2014.10.10].

Evidently Bollen almost sank South Dakota's EB-5 program on his very first EB-5 recruiting effort in 2004. In his April 29, 2014, testimony in the Darley v. SDIBI arbitration, Park said his law firm's relationship with the South Dakota International Business Institute, which Bollen ran on the NSU campus, began in 2004:

...when SDIBI first came up with EB-5 projects, they were working with a Korean professor in Northern State, and Korean professor told Joop Bollen that "Prime market for this is Korea. So let me set up a seminar in Korea" [James Park, testimony, Darley v. SDIBI JAMS arbitration hearing, Los Angeles, CA, 2014.04.29].

(Yeah, sure, who needs market research when a prof down the hall says, "Hey! Let's go to Korea!"?)

So they set up a seminar and made advertisements in newspaper, which is illegal. So I contacted Mr. Bollen and said, "I'm a U.S. lawyer. I'm an immigration lawyer with a Korean law firm. We are interested in pursuing EB-5 business, and we understand you are having a seminar in Korea. The format you are going by could be problematic. So if you need help, let us help you" [Park, 2014.04.29].

Maybe Bollen should have paid more attention to Park's first contact. Park volunteers this story of what happened when Bollen, prof, and friend touched down in Seoul:

...Joop came to Korea with the professor and his Korean partner from the U.S. for a seminar, and lo and behold, as I warned him, the police came and arrested those two gentlemen for illegal seminar because they charged for the seminar.

So I was at the scene, and we talked to Joop, and our firm got those two gentlemen out of the prison, and that gave us a good relationship with Joop [Park, 2014.04.29].

From that meeting sprang a beautiful relationship, which Park says by 2007 included trips to Cambodia, Taiwan, India, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Their relationship was so cozy that Park and Bollen felt they could conduct transactions worth millions of dollars without writing anything down. (Remember, Park and Bollen are the honyockers who Californian financier David Kang says had Northern Beef Packers' finances in total disarray in mid-2009.) Park says SDIBI and Hanul never had a formal, written contract.

Park thought this wink-and-nod coziness ought to govern relationship for everyone working with state agency SDIBI. He made the following statements to Darley boss Robert Stratmore in an October 4, 2007, e-mail read into the arbitration record:

As I mentioned in my email, Hanul does not have an exclusive agreement signed between Hanul and SDIBI. This is because SDIBI (South Dakota) SDIBI and Hanul felt that substance over form was important. WE wanted to start the work and secure our place by our performance. Furthermore, State government granting any sort of exclusivity is a major endeavor as you may know. Rather than to spend time on formalizing everything, we've decided to use the time on creating results...[Park to Stratmore, 2007.10.04].

If that swishy language (formailize our multi-million-dollar transaction? Pish posh!) doesn't set off your business and legal alarms, well, hey, I have a beef plant in Aberdeen I'd like to sell you.

Hanul is confident that the working relationship with Hanul and SDIBI is sufficient for Darley to take on the marketing efforts that it intends to. Therefore, our agreement would be one of practicality rather than absolute legal right. That is the best that we can offer at this time. We have had no reason to seek cumbersome, and may be impossible, expressed exclusivity from SD attorneys. I hope you can reason our rationale in this regard [Park to Stratmore, 2007.10.04].

Park and Bollen thought the state's lawyers were so darned cumbersome that they didn't even seek the state's authorization to deal with the Darley litigation. During the arbitration hearing, Darley attorney Maxwell M. Blecher asked Park about a hearing involving Darley and SDIBI in December 2008:

[Blecher] Have you ever been appointed as counsel, legal counsel, for any South Dakota entity?

[Park]: No.

...[Blecher]: ...isn't it true that Hanul Professional Law Corporation... acted as the legal representative for SDIBI during that mediation session?

[Park]: Yes.

[Blecher]: ...Was Hanul Professional Law Corporation—to your knowledge, has Hanul Professional Law Corporation ever been appointed as legal counsel for SDIBI?

[Park]: Let me rephrase my answer to be more clear—

[Blecher]: Okay.

[Park]: —if I may. Hanul was never appointed by SDIBI to be SDIBI counsel.

[Blecher]: Okay.

[Park]: Hanul was asked to assist in certain legal activities to prepare for the mediation.

[Blecher]: Okay.

[Park]: If that is representation, then yes; but if that's not, that's what it is.

[Blecher, keenly attentive to slippery passive voice]: Okay. Who asked for Hanul's assistance?

[Park]: It was a discussion between Mr. Bollen and I about the Darley arbitration that was filed at the mediation and how we are going to respond to it. So there was discussion back and forth, and I think I suggested to Mr. Bollen that you can appear as pro per, meaning as your own self, and I offered to assist him with the preparation of materials for that, if necessary.

[Blecher]: But you never—you never did talk to any representative of the Board of Regents in connection with appearing for SDIBI at that mediation, correct?

[Park]: No, we did not [Darley v. SDIBI, JAMS hearing, 2014.04.29].

Park seems to get his dates mixed up: Bollen submitted his illegal pro per pleading in August 2008, well before the December 2008 hearing to which Blecher refers.

Whenever Park advised Bollen, we can clearly see that Bollen and Park winged South Dakota's EB-5 program on a handshake, then graduated to conspiring to conceal a lawsuit and engage in unauthorized legal representation of the state of South Dakota, which South Dakota Codified Law and the State Bar of California, under which Park practices, agree is naughty.

Yet Bollen kept drawing a state paycheck through 2009 and lived fat on a state contract doing the same job for almost four years after that.

The Bollen–Park relationship that drove South Dakota's EB-5 program in its early years began in a Korean jail. Perhaps the South Dakota EB-5 story will end with a similar cozy image of Bollen and Park themselves in jail.

94 comments

Mike Rounds desperately needs you to believe that his office had little to do with the EB-5 program that has endangered his gubernatorial legacy and his Senatorial aspirations. "...[T]he program and the personnel were responsible to the South Dakota Board of Regents," Rounds avers. "...[A]s governor, I was not involved in the day-to-day activities of the BOR program."

But according to EB-5 czar Joop Bollen, the leads for big EB-5 transactions came from the Rounds Administration:

[Regents attorney Chaka Okadigbo]: Okay. In terms of -- for people that don't know how the EB-5 program works, if -- I assume the regional center was involved in selecting projects for foreign investors to review and decide whether to invest in it, is that correct?

[Bollen] I wouldn't say that. I would say that initially we will receive a lead that would come from the governor's office or the department of agricultural that there is a project that the state has an interest in. I would then forward the contact to the entity that we had a working relationship with, and they then would obtain the information directly from the project typically and they would then do the due diligence of the project and decide if their investors want to get involved in that project or not [Joop Bollen, deposition 1, Darley v. SDIBI, 2014.04.16].

Rounds has tried to portray his "direct interaction" with Bollen as "limited" to updates on efforts by Bollen's South Dakota International Business Institute "by way of staff reports." Yet Bollen's testimony shows two-way interaction, with the Rounds Administration providing the leads like Northern Beef Packers necessary to sustain SDIBI's efforts.

26 comments

Among the questions Rep. Bernie Hunhoff posed to former Governor Mike Rounds last month about his EB-5 czar Joop Bollen's contract with himself was this loaded query:

Did you know Bollen was asked at deposition "why didn't you sign on behalf of SDRC, Inc." and he responded "it would look silly"? [Rep. Bernie Hunhoff, question 1d, letter from Government Operations and Audit Committee to Michael Rounds, 2014.09.16]

The deposition of Joop Bollen in Darley v. SDIBI shows that Rep. Hunhoff got it wrong. Bollen did not say it would look "silly." He told Darley attorney Jennifer Elkayam that it would have looked "goofy":

[Elkayam]: Why did Mr. Park sign as SDRC -- director of SDRC Inc.?

[Bollen]: First of all, this document was merely to advise the USCIS that a new entity was involved in the operational aspects of the regional center, and we are supposed to advise the USCIS if there is such a change. That was the whole function of this MOU and the reason why I -- Mr. Park signed it is because I had a conversation with him and said, "It looks so goofy for me to sign twice with the same signature," so he said, "Well, I can sign for it as well," so I said, "Okay, that's fine" [Joop Bollen, deposition 2, Darley v. SDIBI, 2014.04.17, p. 221].

Goofy indeed. But somehow I don't think that's the word the USCIS would use to describe signing a document and submitting false information concerning the administration of a federal program.

18 comments

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