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SF Paper Opens up Benda’s Personal Life; So Does Facebook, with Bollen Connection

Jonathan Ellis digs into Richard Benda's personal life in today's Sioux Falls paper. Ellis paints a man of high ambition and intensity—"really high strung," says Watertown lawyer Lee Schoenbeck—with mounting personal troubles.

Wind power promoter Steve Wegman says Benda came back from ten years in Schenectady, New York, from 1989 to 1998, a different, "harder" man "who didn't want to talk about his personal life."

Ellis reports that Benda's return to Pierre in 2006 coincided with his divorce from his wife Cathryn, who accused him in an affidavit of bruising her in an altercation over documents that she said showed "questionable practices with regard to reimbursements" in Benda's work for Watertown's economic development corporation. Cathryn wrote in that affidavit "I simply couldn’t take his gambling, drinking and womanizing any longer." Richard's pals in Watertown and Pierre say they saw no signs of improper conduct in 2006 or prior.

Off-and-on girlfriend Kenna Bridwell tells Ellis that Benda attacked her in a boozy rage in 2011, an incident over which she filed for a restraining order and Benda pleaded to disorderly conduct (hey! how did Pat Powers and I not hear about that?).

Benda didn't talk much about his personal life online. His Facebook account, lingering now like an electronic tombstone, reveals little about the man. He posted a February 2012 Aberdeen American News story about the long-delayed but impending completion of the doomed Northern Beef Packers plant. In May 2013 he posted a photo of himself at the Rough Creek Lodge in Texas. And that's about it.

But take a look at Benda's Facebook Friends page. Amidst a few relatives and economic development business associates and his daughter's female friends from Watertown High School, out of the blue, we find an assortment of relatively young (remember: Benda was 59) Native American and Filipina women. Kenna Bridwell (32), does not appear on that friends roster, but her sister Stephanie Bridwell does. If we are trying to put Benda's officially declared suicide into psychological context, his Facebook Friends roster offers a rather stereotypical picture of a lonely middle-aged white man seeking easy online companionship.

Whatever Benda's personal interactions with these young women, business appears to have always come first. Benda announced that he was engaged on September 20, 2012. After one congratulatory note, the conversation turned to a discussion of an upcoming meeting and economic development in Minnehaha and Lincoln counties. And he keeps a lid on the name of his impending betrothed. Neither his obituary nor any other press has mentioned the status of that engagement.

Richard Benda's personal life has some parallels with that of his partner in EB-5 visa peddling, Joop (pronounced yope) Bollen. Bollen is about a decade younger than Benda. But apparently the strains of promoting economic development in South Dakota and dealing with EB-5 visa investors have worn on him, too. He split with his wife of 21 years, Anita Marie Bollen, in 2011. The divorce decree was recorded on November 11, 2011; by December 20 (if the dates on the camera are to be trusted), Bollen was enjoying an amorous Yuletime tour of Paris with Charisse Oliveros, who now lists her name on Facebook as Charisse Bollen. She's from the Philippines, and she's at least a decade younger than Joop.

Love whom you want: Benda's and Bollen's miss-handlings are far less important than their possible mishandlings of state money and EB-5 investment dollars. But as Mr. Ellis has opened the door into the personal lives of the GOED/EB-5 scandal players, this odd international parallel in their personal pursuits underscores the need for investigators to look closely at the connection between Richard Benda and Joop Bollen.


  1. Robert Klein 2013.11.24

    typo in your last line? don't you mean Richard Benda and Joop Bollen?

  2. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.24

    Yup! Fixed! Thanks, Robert. At times it all starts to run together. :-)

  3. Bree S. 2013.11.24

    Top link is broken I think Cory. Not working for me anyways.

    [CAH: Fixed! Thanks, Bree!]

  4. Bree S. 2013.11.24

    Duh! Totally missed the whole Vegas-gambling-other things connection.

  5. grudznick 2013.11.24

    Mr. H, you and Mr. Mercer are really into prying personal lives apart, eh?

    [CAH: Mr. Ellis contributed the main article on which I'm building here.]

  6. chris 2013.11.24

    Man, this thing is SO screwed up.

  7. Sid 2013.11.24

    Contemplate this: Some folks are expecting to be prosecuted. They wish to claim Benda acted alone and without their knowledge. They want Mr. Benda's public persona to be linked with the image of a lonely, desparate and flawed character. By placing an easy path for someone to follow, a story along these lines appears months before jury selection will take place. Result: while the news article is not recalled specifically, the image created by it is stored in the public's mind. So, when the defense makes these claims at trial, the jurors believe it because they have an existing memory of having heard these claims before which were never rebutted.
    Just my humble thoughts.

  8. Jerry 2013.11.24

    You are spot on Sid, that is exactly how it is played and it will be played to perfection as always unless there is a stand against it.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.24

    Your humble thoughts alarm me, Sid.

  10. Jenny 2013.11.24

    Why did the state not retain Benda in 2010? Was he let go, fired? It seems like Benda would have wanted to keep his six-figure job.

  11. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.24

    Jenny, the press has been mentioning Daugaard's non-renewal of Benda regularly. It's not unusual for a new governor to bring in new people. But thinking along Sid's lines, is someone painting a picture of Benda as a disgruntled political appointee?

  12. Lynn G. 2013.11.25

    It just saddens me every time I read about Richard Benda. It's a tragedy and now since he can't defend himself he's being used to cover other's sins and an unhealthy political system that led to this scandal in the first place. He was very talented with an incredible widely known work ethic. He was a human being just like the rest of us with our strengths and weaknesses.

  13. Bob Mercer 2013.11.25

    Mr./Ms. Grudznick: Whose personal life have I written about in this matter?

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.25

    As usual, Grudznik is mistaken, Bob. I have seen nothing in your coverage delving into Benda's personal affairs the way Ellis's report does. Is such biography necessary to fully understand this story?

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