Last updated on 2013.12.23
A day after declaring Richard Benda's death suicide, Attorney General Marty Jackley fingered the former economic development chief for double-dipping on $5,559.80 in travel reimbursements.
Now someone (Bob Mercer doesn't name the sources, plural) ties Benda to the much larger misappropriation of $550,000 from Governor M. Michael Rounds's last-minute Future Fund grant to Northern Beef Packers:
Richard Benda conspired to pay himself $225,000 annually from state funds for the next two years when he left state government in January 2011, it was learned Thursday.
Sources said Benda routed $550,000 from a $1 million state grant that was paid in January 2011 from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development to Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen.
...Benda personally delivered the $1 million check to Northern Beef, according to sources.
In turn Northern Beef paid $550,000 to SDRC Inc., the Aberdeen-based company that oversaw all EB-5 immigrant investments in South Dakota.
...SDRC then hired Benda in January 2011 to become its EB-5 loan monitor for Northern Beef.
Northern Beef was the recipient of two large loans totaling some $59 million from the EB-5 program. SDRC handled recruitment of the foreign investors and managed the loans [Bob Mercer, "Missing $550,000 Used to Pay Benda," Aberdeen American News, 2013.12.13].
We all see the shell game here, right? The Future Fund disbursement Benda hand-delivered from Pierre to Aberdeen, Grant #1434, specified the million dollars was to be used for construction costs and equipment. Benda shows up smiling at NBP's door and hands over that check. Then, according to Mercer, SDRC, through the loan fund Benda is now in charge of, demands that NBP pay loan monitor Benda's salary, $225K per year, for two years in advance. (Someone, please tell me how I can swing a deal like that!)
Now remember, the money misused here is state money. The Republican spin machine will flip into overdrive telling you that there's nothing to see here (yup, already at it). But Governor Rounds signed the agreement sending that money out the door and, ultimately, into Richard Benda's pocket. Whether Richard Benda tricked Mike Rounds into making this deal possible, or whether Rounds willingly did this favor for a friend who failed to win continued employment with the incoming Daugaard administration, Rounds's oversight of state funds is in serious question.