In reviewing a big pile of vouchers, receipts, and other documents from the Governor's Office of Economic Development from 2009 to 2013, South Dakota's auditor general found that Governor Mike Rounds let slide some sloppy financial oversight.
I find a couple of small examples of that sloppy oversight among the vouchers submitted by GOED (actually, the office was then called the Department of Tourism and State Development) chief Richard Benda.
In 2009 and 2010, on multiple trips to the Far East to recruit EB-5 visa investors from China, the Philippines, and Vietnam (!?!), Benda frequently included requests for reimbursement for "newspapers/magazines marketing/research." As one would expect, Benda included receipts. Some of the receipt copies I'm reviewing are illegible. Some simply list "Periodicals".
But two help us understand the research necessary to market South Dakota's EB-5 opportunities. Consider this receipt from the Minneapolis airport, dated December 15, 2009, submitted by Benda April 21, 2010, for reimbursement for "News/magazines marketing/prospecting research":
...or this one from the Detroit airport, March 13, 2010, submitted by Benda on May 12, 2010, for reimbursement for "newspapers/magazines marketing/research":
Gentlemen's Quarterly, Esquire, Runner's World, Men's Journal, Men's Fitness... yes, because Benda and SDRC Inc. were pitching... a suit factory in Veblen? A health spa in Aberdeen? A men's salon in Lake Andes?
And don't forget the Planters Nut & Choc in Detroit. (That one I can buy as a meal expense. Guy's gotta eat....)
This stray $59 in obviously personal expense is small potatoes compared to the $5,600 in double-billed airline tickets, the thousands more in ill-documented "translation services," and the half-million-plus diverted from a state grant to Benda's pocket and pals. But these receipts are two more small puzzle pieces that fill in the larger picture of fiscal sloppiness and corruption in the office run by M. Michael Rounds.
It's graft, pure and simple. Petty graft but graft none the less. Graft with no shame, and most importantly a system set up to handle business reimbursements that couldn't tell the difference between real expenses and petty self serving graft.
"Translation services" costing $1,200 cash with a receipt written on a Philippine hotel notepad sounds to me like they hired some hookers to entertain themselves and their business prospects and had a big laugh about getting that paid for by taxpayers. But this Benda/Bollen stuff wasn't a one-time incident. It was a long pattern of practice that Rounds can't plausibly claim he didn't know about. The Rounds and Daugaard administrations have for years had all of the information that is now coming to light, and their response was to bury it and not make anything public and not bring any charges while Benda was alive.
Wonder if Joop EB-5'ed his new wife thru immigration. That would take $500,000, wouldn't it?
I worked and traveled Internationally (private company) and certain expenses were and were not acceptable. Expenses were given as an annual budget and as an employee you were ALWAYS encouraged to spend the budget each year because if you didn't not only was your expense account going to get cut but so would all expense accts. Certain things were and were not acceptable:
1. buying magazines? No
2. buying snacks at the airport? Yes
3. cash receipts? No, Never.
However, things could in fact shift depending on how much you were generating. Expenses submitted could be "looser" and or less looked at because you had landed this deal or that.
The difference is that I was spending company money NOT tax payers dollars.
Were expenses looked at with one eye because of how MUCH the EB-5 program was supposedly bringing into the state? Were things loosy goosy because of what was being brought in?
I made mention of this on a previous post, but has anyone questioned Rich Sattgast on why these reimbursement requests were approved by the State Auditor's office with such sloppy documentation? The State Auditor is independently elected to serve as a watchdog for taxpayer money. They are supposed to be the checks and balances part of state government that insures claims paid by the state are appropriate.
I've done very little travel for companies/state/schools in my life, but I was always told to turn in anything you think might get approved, because at worst, it would just get denied and you would get a "really" talking too from the higher ups. The problem here, is it appears, the "really" talk never came. I've heard similar stories from other departments. In a normal state this would be an auditors problem, but I'm not really sure what the auditors department does in South Dakota
I submit some receipts for expenses. Not only would I never consider turning in such crap as that, none of that would stand a chance of being approved, and if I kept it up, I'd be fired.
Ms. AnnieTee let us hope that when they start the investigations they have this Mr. Sattgass up for some questions. They may start with "why did you approve these payments, sir?" It seems insaner than ever.
More evidence Benda recruited hookers.
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