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.
[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.