On January 16, 2014, Governor Dennis Daugaard asserted that Northern Beef Packers did nothing wrong in diverting $550,000 of a $1,000,000 state grant to Richard Benda and SDRC Inc. Attorney General Marty Jackley stunningly reversed that official position on July 29 when he told the Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee that he prepared a warrant to arrest Benda for that diversion.
Apparently that reversal has been in the works for months, perhaps since before Governor Daugaard told us the grant diversion was kosher. David Montgomery reports that the state has hired attorney Paul Bachand to look into the viability of a lawsuit to recover that missing half-million:
Last month Bachand was given confidential documents prepared last year by criminal investigators. Under the special court order obtained with Attorney General Marty Jackley's consent, Bachand can review but not copy the investigation file and isn't allowed to disclose its contents to anyone other than Daugaard and other top state officials.
The trove of documents Bachand obtained includes witness interviews, emails and letters, bank statements, canceled checks, "evidence of wire transfers and other evidence of transfers of funds," Benda's credit card statements, receipts and cell phone records, and Northern Beef's private contracts, employment records, time sheets and other relevant records.
"It's a voluminous record," Venhuizen said. "I'm sure that's taking some time."
It's also taking some money. Bachand has billed the state $21,222.49 for work done since Nov. 1. Most of that money, Venhuizen said, relates to Bachand's study of the missing $550,000.
Bachand is billing the state at a rate of $155 per hour, meaning he's put in nearly 137 hours of work since November [David Montgomery, "Daugaard Trying to Get Back $550K Benda Allegedly Stole," that Sioux Falls paper, 2014.08.22].
Bachand has been on the Northern Beef Packers–Benda money trail since November. If the state thought it might have grounds to try recovering the money Benda took from Mike Rounds's Future Fund Grant #1434, why would Governor Daugaard not have told us sooner? Was there really any downside to telling us from the start that Benda did wrong and that the state would do everything in its power to get those tax dollars back? Would announcing an aggressive state effort to recover its money have somehow fouled the sale of bankrupt Northern Beef Packers to White Oak?
Why Governor Daugaard would not have assured taxpayers from the get-go of his diligent prosecution of this wrong-doing perhaps pales in importance before the fact that his administration really is prosecuting. But if the Daugaard Administration had come clean from the start, it would not suffer now, just as the election season kicks into high gear, from the bad press of this curious reversal.