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Benda Made Four Trips to Philippines 2009-2010 — Results for South Dakota?

One of the things that stuck out to me in the Auditor General's review of the Governor's Office of Economic Development was Finding #3, which said that GOED chief Richard Benda had received reimbursement for $14,700 for "translation services" in the Philippines.

I review the voucher files and find the handwritten "invoice" the Auditor General Guindon mentions. Four men—Jose Reyes, Juan de la Cruz, Romeo Chavez, and Mark Andrew—evidently got $1,200 cash for translation and interpretation. That "invoice" is scrawled on stationary from the City Garden Hotel in Makati.

I would love to know what exactly they translated and interpreted. But what still has me wondering is... the Philippines? What the heck was Richard Benda doing in the Philippines?

The GOED vouchers show that Richard Benda traveled to the Philippines four times in a six-month period from December 2009 to May 2010. These trips usually took place in conjunction with trips to China to recruit investors for EB-5 projects, most prominently the then-floundering Northern Beef Packers plant in Aberdeen. Benda made two trips just to China in July and November 2009. But the December trip took a four-day detour, from December 21 to 24, to Manila, with Benda purchasing his plane tickets and hotel rooms on Expedia while in China.

Benda returned to the Philippines March 22 through March 26, April 26 through May 1, and May 13 through 30. That May trip is complicated: Benda first went from Sioux Falls to Manila, then flew to Ho Chi Minh City (yes, Vietnam) on May 18. He hopped up to China May 19 through 24, then flew back to Manila to stay until May 30.

The May trip includes a receipt from the My Boracay resort showing a stay the nights of May 15 and 16 and a receipt from the Hilton Cebu Resort and Spa for a stay the night of May 25. Both of those receipts indicate payment for one room with two adults. The receipts do not indicate Benda's companion was one of his translators.

The itemized lists accompanying these receipts indicate that Benda met with numerous potential EB-5 investors in the Philippines. He wined and dined them at various places, include the Café Havana in the Greenbelt 3 development in Makati. I find at least three receipts from Café Havana:

  • April 28, 2010, 02:05, $76.11
  • April 29, 2010, 01:31, $43.27
  • May 17, 2010, 20:20, $25.48

Benda didn't throw a lot of cash around at Café Havana, at least not cash that he asked for the taxpayers to reimburse, but he spent some of it late into the evening (jet lag, right?).

It may be worth noting that Café Havana is a "go-go bar" (welcome to the first appearance of that phrase on this blog) in Makati, the financial center of the Philippines. The City Garden Hotel, where the translators' invoice originated, is a four-minute walk from Makati's red-light district.

Last puzzle piece for the morning: Just prior to his last trip to the Philippines on the state's dime (the vouchers show no further trips overseas by Benda after he returned from Manila at the end of May 2010), Benda spent May 7 and 8 in Deadwood, apparently discussing EB-5 money for the Deadwood Mountain Grand Casino. The vouchers indicate that Benda changed his Delta flight ticket on May 8. He left for that last Philippines trip May 13.

No Philippine EB-5 investors have been identified in the more prominently discussed bankrupt EB-5 projects of Northern Beef Packers and the Veblen dairies. Philippine investors have not made news in any other South Dakota EB-5 projects. I am thus curious to learn whether Benda's burst of interest in the Philippines from December 2009 to May 2010 translated into more EB-5 money for South Dakota projects or if that effort went the fruitless way of Benda's Hyperion exertions.


  1. larry kurtz 2014.02.27

    That Kristi has found religion on sex trafficking in the state means she has access to Bendagate investigations. Now she says she supports immigration reform: "with South Dakota’s push for dairy farm expansions, immigration reform could help with workers for those facilities."

  2. crossgrain 2014.02.27

    Any chance he was meeting with Chinese ex-pats who were members of the "Bamboo Network"...?? A go-go bar seems like a good place to find these budding capitalists, though I'm not sure bringing them home to meet mama is such a good idea.

  3. crossgrain 2014.02.27

    Sorry bad hyperlink there! Should have been this:

    "Bamboo Network"

  4. larry kurtz 2014.02.27

    Overheard at a drunken music video shoot: "This is the last goddamned check I'm going to write to you assholes!" --Big Kenny Alphin, handing a check for $5M to Mike Gustafson.

    Construction is reportedly obscenely over budget.

  5. Rorschach 2014.02.27

    So their cash expenditures in the red light district are for translators? Funny how that works in a place where most people speak English, and especially the business people that they would be dealing with. Looks to me like the Philippines side trip is an example of taxpayer funded sex tourism. It also looks to me like the Rounds and Daugaard adminsitrations covered it up.

  6. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.02.27

    Dang it, R! You get me all excited... and then... it's just rock satire. :-)

  7. PrairieLady - gayle 2014.02.27

    Was there not a mention of some Benda family member had a wife or girlfriend from the Philippines? Perhaps he was visiting a "family" member? Ya...right. Being an old floozie myself, I know what men do in the red light district. Why were the receipts never questioned...I am sure there were office staff giggling.

  8. David Newquist 2014.02.27

    Incomiprehensible. Especially to an old man whose entire work life involved submitting, sometimes approving, expense reports, the last 20 years to the same employer as Richard Benda. The inevitable response to those receipts for men's health and fashion magazines would have been "how are these expenses work related?" And that "invoice"on hotel stationary. Without a reference number and receipts, it would not be reimbursable.

    The attention being given Benda in all this is misdirection that deflects attention away from all of state government and how it is being managed. By what authority does a cabinet secretary make in field payments to vendors and what procedures are established for handling expenses? He was sure as hell operating under a different set of rules than apply to state university faculty.

    What is most bothersome about this business is that when graft and deception are uncovered in other states, there are complete sets of records to examine. Where there are none, or at best slovenly records, there isn't much chance to determine just what went on. That seems to be the ploy for many decades of South Dakota government.

  9. David Newquist 2014.02.27

    Incomprehensible. As in what goes wrong with the on Word Press.

  10. Roger Cornelius 2014.02.27

    Mr. Newquist is on the ball here. While the receipts and travel extravaganzas of Benda are interesting and good topics for discussion, they can also serve as a distraction from the larger story.
    Officially, nothing will ever come of Benda's recklessness and theft except as a scapegoat for Rounds/Daugaard.

    My eyes remain on the prize, an audit of that $60 million in EB-5 investment money. Maybe the feds are doing one.

  11. Jerry 2014.02.27

    Keep your eyes on the prize Roger as that is where all of ours should be. I think though, that the fix is in and we shall never hear anymore that what we are speculating on right now. The law does not care that we tax payers took a hit and as far as the 60 million, that is just fine with them. Time to face the facts, South Dakota is completely corrupted and it starts at the top with law enforcement up to their eyeballs in it as well.

  12. Bill Dithmer 2014.02.27

    There is a place in Boracay they call "Levantine," in that language it means "Where The Sun Rises."

    It's just a short dream sequence from there to this tune. The lyrics have been changed many many times to support the time and place where it is being sung. Some say it was brought to this country by immigrants from England in the late 1700s and that it was about a brothel in Soho. This same melody and words close to these has been played in many different countries of the world.

    I've listened to over a hundred copies of this song with at least fifteen different sets of lyrics. A word changed here and there gets Richard to the right place.

    This happens to be my favorite version because I love Doc Watson. Lets just call it The Benda Blues.

    The Blindman

  13. Anne Beal 2014.02.27

    To somebody who has never flown anywhere, a flight to the other side of the planet might look like a junket. But let me tell you what air travel is really like: it's HELL, okay?! It's pure torture. Awful. The only thing which makes being crammed into an 18" x 18" seat with no leg room (or head room should you try to stand up) is general anesthesia. And then the passenger in front of you reclines his seat into your lap. The person sitting next to you weighs 500 pounds and spills over the armrest.
    So when I read your account of all his trips to the Phillipines, all I can think is. " oh that poor man , no wonder he killed himself."

  14. Joe 2014.02.27

    Here are some questions I have, I haven't seen answered but maybe they have been.

    1st.... whose idea was it to go on these trips? I understand as the Secretary of Economic Development/Tourism, you are going to occasionally travel out of the country. But this seems a little bit much. And as said, with no results to show for it. No known plan they were selling, etc.

    2nd- Who was going with him? Was he by himself, was there other state employees going with him? Was SD business leaders going with him?

    3rd- The major question? Who approves the expenses for a Cabinet Secretary? I believe in most states its the auditors job, but I've never really understood what the auditors do in South Dakota, so who knows.

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.02.27

    Anne, I find air travel thrilling. Someone else does the driving, I can sit and read the whole time, or gaze out the window at the wonder of the planet. Running through airports to make connections is also fun. If I could get a job where the state would pay me to fly all over the world, I'd love it... as long as I could keep coming home to South Dakota.

  16. Rick 2014.02.27

    Anne, if you fly first class, you can avoid all that stress. Sure it's more expensive but it's so worth it.

  17. Nick Nemec 2014.02.28

    Hookers and drugs. I love you long time.

  18. Lynn G. 2014.02.28

    I can relate to what Anne said about flying. I used fly from North Carolina to San Jose and other cross country flights quite often and it was a pain to be stuck in that aluminum tube/sardine can flying coach after a while. I'd like to fly to Europe in the not too distant future but I'd definitely like to budget first class on a flight of that time length and definitely Asia if possible. Otherwise it would be a miserable experience.

  19. Jerry 2014.02.28

    Maybe Benda was just taking Spanish language lessons because he wanted to speak that to the Chinese and South Koreans. Perhaps his Rosetta Stone was not doing it for him and he needed either a young girl or a young boy to help him understand the identification of the human anatomy.

  20. Bill Dithmer 2014.02.28

    If we would just legalize, regulate, and tax, prostitution and drugs, these people wouldn't have to travel on the taxpayers dime. They could drive to Deadwood and find a reincarnation of "Pam's Purple Door." Now don't anybody admit to knowing either who Pam was or what The Purple Door led to.

    The Blindman

  21. mike from iowa 2014.02.28

    My guess is prostitution and drugs are illegal because men of the cloth and politicians can't resist the temptations w/o gubmint(socialist) interference. The problem I see with that is those two classes of people seem to be the least affected by the law. How many of either group ever gets charged and/or convicted and do jail time?

  22. Troy 2014.02.28

    Roger is right. If there is a "scandal" it will be with the EB-5 program. Everything else that is coming to light is mostly revealing that, at worst, my friend Rich Benda abused the public trust, which reflects on him and his legacy (which makes me sad).

    The $60 million that went into NBP is the "big fish." But, let's keep in mind what that is first:

    1) Federal program run by the Immigration and Customs Office. What in the world they are doing running a program like this is beyond me. The needed expertise and skill they to administer this is non-existent. Obama rightly is re-organizing it under the Commerce Department with regulation by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Good move.

    2) A program to attract capital from non-US citizens to fund risky projects that might otherwise not get capital in exchange for a path to citizenship. We have similar programs for highly skilled foreigners to come to the US. This is the "capital" counter-part.

    3) The people who lost their money were people from China hoping to move to the US. Not US citizens. I am surprised by all the "sympathy" expressed by the anti-Rounds crowd (on the left and far right) that a bunch of Chinese investors lost $500,000.

  23. Rorschach 2014.02.28

    Just like Watergate, the violation is bad enough, but the coverup can bring down the higher ups. The documents show that Rich Benda was hanging out in go go bars in the Philippines and paying large sums of cash at a hotel near the go go bar purportedly for translation services in a country where English is the official language and business people speak English? The Rounds administration and the Daugaard administration have been aware of these improprieties and questionable dealings literally for years, and they have covered it up - literally for years. Heads need to roll, and the buck stops on Rounds and Daugaard's desk.

  24. Troy 2014.02.28


    You have absolutely no evidence anyone knew about it prior to when the house started to fall. In fact, because there would be no incentive for them to know about it and allow it to happen, your charge needs evidence lest it be calumny. The Watergate analogy doesn't work.

  25. Rorschach 2014.02.28

    You're right, Troy - if handwritten cash claims on hotel notepads for questionable services in the Philippine red light district get reimbursed by state government without any questions being asked. Of course, we know that at some point more than 2 years ago government did start asking questions, but maybe there wasn't anybody smart enough to raise these questions until Cory published documents that were in state government possession for the past 4-5 years.

  26. Jerry 2014.02.28

    Benda must have had something on ole Rounds to allow that kind of mismanagement. A hand written receipt is what you might get from a load of hay bales from a neighbor, certainly not to be expected from a high profile business meeting. Can you imagine Goldman Sachs giving you a penciled receipt for services rendered and then not giving any directions on what services were involved?

  27. Bill Dithmer 2014.02.28

    Now what would be worse?

    1. Knowing there where problems, but saying nothing, hoping everyone else was dumber then you where?
    2. Knowing that there were problems, and then keeping evidence hidden to protect your future in politics?
    3. Or would it be worse to have the evidence of severe wrong doing at tax payer expense in your hands and be to stupid to know it.

    It looks to me like it has to be one of the three. Do they want to be shown to be complicit in a crime, or complicit in the cover up of that crime, or would they rather have the people of the state know how utterly inept they are at their jobs?

    None of these people have half the smarts of Bill Junklow so if they want to survive their going to need some help.

    Like Hannibal John Smith used to say, "I love it when a plan comes together.

    The Blindman

  28. Erwin Mack 2014.02.28

    I doubt Rounds reviewed and approved his travel requests. I question why the Auditor's Office would approve these reimbursements. I know for a fact that the Auditor's Office reviews and authorizes all travel reimbursements. You can't get reimbursed for parking, taxi or baggage without an original receipt.

  29. Roger Cornelius 2014.02.28

    I would have to disagree with you on the Watergate analogy, most the people that were convicted and sent to jail did not break-in the Democratic Headquarters, they were convicted of lying to the FBI, financial mismanagement and the cover up in general.
    The GOED/EB-5 scandal could easily go in that direction. Obviously at this point we don't have all the evidence, but Cory has a lot, for convictions, we are left to speculate, just like you.
    EB/5 investors that lost their money know the risks of investments, I haven't heard that much sympathy for them. What I have heard is people that would like to know their stories.
    I agree somewhat with the first two items on your list, with the exception, does it make any difference what government agency monitors EB-5 if the "operatives" are intent on ripping off funds.
    How can we as taxpayers ever trust the state government to manage these programs responsibly?
    We chuckle at money being spent at go-go bars, expensive red light hotels, magazine subscriptions, translators, etc.
    What we are forgetting is that all of these things add up and what else is out there that we have not been told about or discovered by investigators.

  30. Jerry 2014.02.28

    I don't know if Rounds reviewed them or not, what I am saying is that someone must have in order for that to be paid and if Benda had the goods on Rounds, then whoever approved it would have known to just pay the thing and shut the hell up as it was approved from up the ladder. Anyone in business, unless the business is corrupted, knows perfectly well that receipts must be reconciled to receive payment. This is especially true for public money even if some of the money may have come from EB-5 sources, it is still held in public trust.

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