The main players so far in South Dakota's GOED/SDRC/EB-5 scandal are Richard Benda, whose untimely and strangely unexplained death seems to have popped the boil of South Dakota corruption surrounding the EB-5 program, and Joop Bollen, director of the private company that spun off from a more scrutinizable state agency to manage all that EB-5 money. Benda is dead; Bollen is Dutch—both are thus easily fall-guyable. The man who authorized them to do their EB-5 work, then-Governor now Senate candidate Marion Michael Rounds, will use all of his money and friends to make us forget that he was the captain of the ship Benda and Bollen navigated into the murky EB-5 waters.
But there are other players whose names haven't surfaced yet in the press's growing coverage of this sprawling story, players who have kept a low profile but who may figure prominently in whatever comes of the federal investigation into SDRC Inc., Northern Beef Packers, and our state economic development program.
Maurice "Morrie" Berez was the United States Customs and Immigration Service's chief adjudications official for the EB-5 program. Michelle Malkin mentioned him in one of her posts, in which she repeats her charges that EB-5 is rife with corruption. (Michelle Malkin—yeesh! Conservatives! Why are you not jumping all over the South Dakota EB-5 story?)
Berez was the contact man for South Dakota and Bollen as they sought to expand the EB-5 program from dairies in several South Dakota counties to utilities, factories, and gambling and entertainment projects almost anywhere in the state... and his initials and official stamp appear on the official June 25, 2008, approval of our EB-5 expansion.
Shortly thereafter Berez retired from USCIS and went to work as an executive for SDRC Inc., the company formed to handle South Dakota's EB-5 recruitment and investment. He toured China with Bollen to recruit Chinese immigrant investors for South Dakota projects. Berez appears to have left SDRC early this year.
Pyush Patel of 128 Stillwater Trace, Griffin, Georgia, appears to have taken Berez's place alongside Bollen at SDRC. He appears to be a partner with Bollen on at least two other mysterious corporations, one of which, JOPY Inc., he and Bollen formed in 2005. Pyush owns gas stations in Georgia, at least one of which got in trouble with local authorities several years ago for underage alcohol sales. How he got connected with South Dakota is anyone's guess.
Jeffrey T. Sveen is a well-connected Aberdeen lawyer at Siegel Barnett & Schutz LLP. His law firm is involved in the bankruptcy proceedings for Northern Beef Packers and was involved in the legal fracas around Richard Millner's Veblen dairies, two of the biggest South Dakota recipients of EB-5 money. Sveen is also board chairman of Dakota Provisions, the Huron turkey plant that has been kept afloat by EB-5 money.
Sveen's chairmanship of the turkey plant is an outgrowth of a unique locus of power he occupies. The turkey plant is nominally owned and controlled by South Dakota Hutterites. Sveen is the go-to lawyer for over 50 South Dakota Hutterite colonies. That familiarity with the colonies puts Sveen in a position to wield political influence among a group known for voting in bloc for the candidates their head men choose. One Hutterite faction sued Sveen and his legal colleagues Rodrick Tobin and Harvey Jewett for racketeering last year, but federal Judge Lawrence Piersol dismissed that suit this August.
Berez, Patel, and Sveen have all played important roles in South Dakota's use of EB-5 visa funds for economic development projects. If federal investigators have Joop Bollen and Richard Benda under scrutiny, they almost have to be talking to Berez, Patel, and Sveen.