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Bollen 2008: South Dakota Sold Green Cards to Gain “Competitive Advantage”

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland launched an ad last week attacking his GOP opponent Mike Rounds for selling U.S. residency to fund his Northern Beef Packers boondoggle and other economic development projects in South Dakota. Weiland's ad provoked much screeching and wailing from Team Rounds. That's a lie! shouts a video from the Rounds campaign. Mike never sold citizenship!

That's true. Rick Weiland and I and other observers occasionally err in our choice of words. The EB-5 visa investment program allows wealthy foreigners to buy their way to front of the immigration queue for $500,000. It does not buy them citizenship. It buys them green cardspermanent residence, which if maintained for five years allows an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen.

Weiland accurately used the term "U.S. residency cards" in his ad. The voiceover then said, "Rick Weiland believes citizenship shouldn't be for sale...." We can spend all weekend debating whether that statement is a lie, an error, or an oversimpification, rectified by saying, "The opportunity for citizenship through permanent residency shouldn't be for sale."

But when Mike Rounds himself finally comes out from under his rock and hyperventilates over that legal/semantic distinction, he will still have to admit to the core of Weiland's critique: selling the privilege of immigration to America was a central part of Mike Rounds's economic development efforts.

Mike Rounds's own EB-5 investment manager, Joop Bollen, said so under oath in 2008:

  1. In 2001, SDIBI initiated recruitment of European dairy farmers to South Dakota to construct and manage large state-of-the-art dairy farms in the eastern portion of the state. SDIBI was successful in recruiting 15 such projects whose owners all legally entered the United States of America to settle in South Dakota on E-2 non-immigrant visas.
  2. The Regional Center Program is an investment visa program designated as EB-5 which grants legal permanent residency to foreign nationals who create 10 direct or indirect full-time jobs by investing at least $500,000.00 in an area with a low population or a high unemployment rate. Such areas are designated as "regional centers."
  3. In 2003 SDIBI applied for regional center status, which was approved by United States Citizens [sic] and Immigration services (USCIS) in April of 2004.
  4. SDIBI obtained regional center status in order to provide more security to the European investors that had settled in South Dakota and to provide South Dakota with a competitive advantage over other states which were also recruiting European dairy investors, but were not able to offer permanent residency as they did not have regional center status [emphasis mine; Joop Bollen, Declaration, Darley International vs. South Dakota International Business Institute, Case No. CV08-05034 DDP PLAx, 2008.08.22].

Weiland and other critics of South Dakota's exploitation of the visa investment program should avoid saying "buy citizenship." They should instead use Rounds's man Bollen's own terms: South Dakota sold "permanent residency" to gain a "competitive advantage." Under Mike Rounds, South Dakota treated entry into the United States as a mere commodity, for sale to bidders more interested in buying green cards than in scrutinizing the hyperbolic business plan Rounds's pals floated for Northern Beef Packers.


  1. Roger Elgersma 2014.09.07

    When the greatest economic country in the world can not finance its own dairies and beef packing plants in an agricultural area with home grown money, then we start to question if we really have such a super great business climate in South Dakota.

  2. mike from iowa 2014.09.07

    Harking back to Cory's mention of Mr Roboto-"the problem's plain to see. Too much wingnuttery.When monies from foreign lands,wind up in private hands."

  3. Michael B 2014.09.07

    Aside from the money trail, all of this does not matter: with thousands coming across our southern border, amnesty and then citizenship will be granted soon to those who never acquired a green card.

  4. Bill Fleming 2014.09.07

    That's a strawman argument, Michael B. It does matter if those who paid a half a million for first position in the Citizenship line end up getting nothing for their money. Immigration is a problem on all fronts. Why even begin to suggest that it's not?

  5. Wayne Pauli 2014.09.07

    Mike, please do not mix oil and water...these are two vastly different issues. I like what Roger stated about maybe we do not have a great business climate. I was a banker in Minnesota, Colorado, and South Dakota. I always explained it like this: Minnesota could do great economic things because they had "old money"' a plethora of capital to draw upon, and a tax base. Colorado could do great economic things because they were not adverse to risk, it has not bothered them to inject borrowed money to make things work. Then there is South Dakota: with a goal of getting a Triple A bond rating...for what? We are afraid of going in debt, we are afraid to pay taxes, and we are afraid of giving a helping hand to the next aspiring business owner. So we sell $500,000 memberships to the club.

  6. Bill Fleming 2014.09.07

    ...besides, at least 40% if not more of the undocumented people in the US got here with valid visas. They just didn't go home when they expired.

  7. Donald Pay 2014.09.07

    The initial impetus of the program (EB-2) was built on the long-time premise held by most of the large businesses and the elite in South Dakota, as enunciated by Bollen:

    "In 2001, SDIBI initiated recruitment of European dairy farmers to South Dakota to construct and manage large state-of-the-art dairy farms in the eastern portion of the state. SDIBI was successful in recruiting 15 such projects whose owners all legally entered the United States of America to settle in South Dakota on E-2 non-immigrant visas."

    South Dakota never, ever considers building anything around its own citizens, and it never values its own resources. Whether it's nuclear waste or hog farms or a dairy industry, the elite seeks outsiders to build them and outside money to prop them up. It rarely seeks to risk it own money to build anything of value. The elite in South Dakota are takers. Finding some outside interest to prop them up is what they do best. Generally, they stretch their hand out for federal money, but they'll take it from anywhere, and so you get endless scams and "projects" that no one wants.

    This whole fiasco is just one in a long line of similar scams. The details aren't that important. The fact that South Dakota citizens won't get rid of this elite means they can count on similar scams.

    Don't count on the crooks to investigate this. It isn't going to happen. You'll never know all the details. And while your all upset about that fact, they have already launched their next scam.

    What you can know about and do something about right now is their next scam. It's already being set up for you by Nuke Waste Denny. Don't get so distracted by the last scam that you don't fight Denny's nuclear waste dump.

  8. Bill Fleming 2014.09.07

    ...if there is a common thread it would be to ask why a person with big bucks can buy his way to the front of the line, but a person who has worked his ass off and paid into SS, Medicare and Income tax fund for 10 years has to go back home and try to see if they can maybe get into the back of the line someday.

  9. Bill Fleming 2014.09.07

    p.s. Did Joop Bollen buy his way into his permanent residency?

  10. bearcreekbat 2014.09.07

    It is somewhat ironic that people from other countries with $500,000 to spare even want to come to the USA as they are most likely in a comfortable and safe position in their home country. They sure don't appear to need our help, yet we make it very easy for them to buy green cards and immigrate.

    Meanwhile, we recognize that there are other less fortunate individuals from other countries who want to do honest work, but cannot make enough to support their families, which we know are going hungry due to low or no wages resulting in poverty, and who have children whose very lives are threatened by gang violence. Yet we have people clamoring for policies that make it extraordinarily difficult for such families to get green cards, instead of supporting their immigration to a safe haven in the USA, so they can work, support their families, have safe place for their children, pay taxes, and contribute to the American way of life. And we seek to deport others who have been here for many years working, paying taxes, supporting their families and raising their own children as American citizens, but don't have a piece of paper as a ticket to stay.

    Seems like compassion turned upside down.

  11. Michael B 2014.09.07

    It's all immigration: a problem that the government is too chicken shit to address.

  12. grudznick 2014.09.07

    See Bill? I told you it wasn't selling citizenship to the highest bidder and that semantics are important. And you grew enraged with me.

  13. Dave Baumeister 2014.09.07

    Well said, bear creek. Our country would be much better off with 500,000 people who would be willing to dig ditches and clean toilets -- that would also be happy to pay taxes --than we would with ONE person wthought it was OK to buy his way in with $500,000 -- and who would then try to find ways to avoid paying taxes.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.07

    Bill, I have yet to see an authoritative statement on Bollen's citizenship status.

    Grudz, what are you doing out of bed at this hour?

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.07

    Bearcreekbat, Dave, I'm with you on the humanitarian front. If someone can jump the line with $500,000, someone should be able to jump the line for hiking across a desert, digging ditches, scrubbing toilets, building skyscrapers, and/or paying into Medicare and Social Security.

    And I am fascinated by Wayne's and Donald's overall observation of this scandal as indicative of a fiber of cowardly mooching running through South Dakota's fiscal psychology. It fits the evidence. It puts a huge lie to Daugaard's "self-reliance" mantra. And it sounds like a weakness that must change.

  16. grudznick 2014.09.07

    Mr. H, they are blaring a football game on the TV and it woke me.

    Would Mr. Bollen being a US citizen or not make any difference in the punishments or laws or rights he has? If he was a Dutchman citizen and was guilty of bad things he might try and just flee back to Amsterdam. Perhaps he has nothing to flee from, or perhaps the governments are banning him from buying plane tickets.

  17. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.07

    Agreed Cory, Rick's messaging needs to be clearer but at he same time imply the citizenship for sale line. Gordon Howie has been using his Rounds' Citizenship For Sale ad for awhile now, let him promote it. RINO MIKE on twitter promotes it everyday.
    If Howie, the self-proclaimed only true Republican in the race, can use the line without criticism from the SDGOP, why can't Rick?

  18. Paul Seamans 2014.09.07

    I agree with Donald Pay, our state leadership is more intent on attracting mega-dairies and CAFO's than they are in helping our small family dairies and livestock feeding operations. At a committee hearing at last years legislature the head of the DENR bragged about how many CAFO's that they had permitted in the last year rather than bragging about what they had done to protect our environment and natural resources.

  19. Donald Pay 2014.09.07

    Paul Seamans,

    What you describe regarding DENR's approach to the Legislature has been going on for a couple generations. They have a "customer service" approach that values serving their "customers" (ie. the polluters), rather than the public or protecting the natural resources of the state, which is supposed to be their statutory duty.

    I always got the feeling listening to these Legislative presentations that they viewed handing out permits more as an economic development tool, than a regulatory tool. They never talk about how much phosphorus they kept out of the waterways. I doubt they even care.

    The reason for this is pretty clear. They know the biases of the Legislature and the Governor and the elites who control them, and they tailor the presentation to downplay their regulatory function. It's really a sales approach for the Legislature, but after generations of this sort of obsequiousness, DENR has become more of a economic development organization than a regulatory agency.

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.07

    Say, check out this open letter from Joop Bollen on behalf of the "South Dakota Regional Center" (not SDIBI or SDRC Inc.) that Sibby featured last October:

    "South Dakotaʼs Regional Center is truly a state government run regional center where economic development is the reward and not profit for company which manages the regional center!!

    South Dakota intends for the regional center to benefit the economy for a long time to come and therefore we will vigorously protect the integrity of our regional center as we understand that one failed investment would undermine the future of our program.

    South Dakotaʼs federal representatives and high ranking state officials understand the benefits EB-5 has provided to our State and are willing to assist or intervene when and if deemed necessary.

    Finally, unlike a privately managed program where the company can call it quits and disappear overnight, I can assure you that the State of South Dakota is here to stay!!" [Joop Bollen, open letter, published on, date unknown]

    That emphasis on being state-run and not seeking profit sounds really important. How long did Bollen sell his program this way to investors after he started raking in those big profits?

  21. jerry 2014.09.07

    Wow Cory and Sibson, that little nugget makes it very difficult for Rounds and his sidekick Daugaard to run from. By the way, where was NOem in all of this? Wasn't she in leadership during this time?

  22. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.07

    HOLY WOW!!
    That link may not be a home run, but it is certainly a stand up double.
    Look at the early confirmations of federal investigations, particularly the SEC, I wasn't certain of their involvement until now.
    And again we have the ominous "no comment" from the top officials in the state, why not comment?
    Thank you Sibson for reporting and thank you Cory for finding it and sharing.
    At this point, all I can say is that the article needs to be spread across the internet. And once we share it, share it again, especially as the elections nears.
    Where's Troy Jones when we need him?

  23. Anne Beal 2014.09.08

    Outside of the few people on the blogs I don't see anybody who cares about EB5. The same people have been trying to whip this into a campaign issue for over a year and it's not working.
    When you meet people and talk to them about what concerns them, they don't bring it up. They don't know anybody personally who was affected by it.
    This issue didn't work for Hubbel or Nelson and it hasn't worked for Myers or Howie and it's not going to work for Weiland.
    It doesn't matter how bad it is if the voters don't care. The people who got here on EB5 visas are not causing trouble for anybody here. They are not the immigrants the public is afraid of.

  24. Lynn 2014.09.08

    Anne, Where have you talked to people in the state in that EB-5 was a non-issue for them? Were they Rounds, DD supporters?

    I know of a lifelong moderate Republican that has taken an indirect financial hit from one of the EB-5 projects that was shady and failed. He was not a contractor nor a rancher but is pretty peeved at Rounds and DD. He will recover ok but he definitely took a hit. He will definitely not vote for Rounds or DD.

  25. jerry 2014.09.08

    What immigrants are the public afraid of Anne Beal? Chinese, Korean, Muslim, Columbian, Canadian or Minnesotan surely must fit into your category.

    Of course, you are hitting the real nail on the head. EB-5 requires a half million bucks to start with to be able to play. The only ones who fit that are the Chinese and the Koreans. But as a true dyed in the wool right wing nut, if it has moolah, it is cool and $500,000.00 takes the color of the skin along with any kind of political affiliation, out of the scenario.

    EB-5 is not going to be put on the back burner because it irritates you Anne Beal, actually, all the more reason to keep it steaming as it seems to be cooking.

  26. jerry 2014.09.08

    Did you enjoy the peach harvest Anne Beal? How many days is it from first bud to pick on peaches? How would you know what to look for? Who picks these taste bud wonders? We are afraid of immigrants, really? Why do we eat the food they prepare for us then?

  27. Lynn 2014.09.08


    One thing I'd like to point out is that this lifelong moderate Republican who took a financial hit indirectly from one of these shady and failed EB-5 projects is well aware of investing and the level of risks involved but this failed project never should of gone as far as it did. It was chasing good money after bad.

    Rounds owns this since it happened under his Administration despite their trying to deny it. You know if it was a huge success he would of taken credit for it.

  28. larry kurtz 2014.09.08

    It's interesting that Mrs. Beal is shut off from the news so completely that she is comfortable showing Madvillians how removed she and the SDGOP are from reality.

  29. JeniW 2014.09.08

    From what I have been reading, the argument has been that the state did not lose any money on the NBP.

    What fails to get mentioned is that contractors and former employees either lost, or did not received what was due to them.

    I really cannot say that the people involved with NBP, or the citizens living in Aberdeen are disgruntled because I have not visited with people in the area, but I am willing to bet they are not happy campers.

  30. larry kurtz 2014.09.08

    What did Mike Rounds, DD and Marty know about Bollen/Benda running a front for human trafficking and when did they know it?

  31. Bill Fleming 2014.09.08

    Indeed, JeniW, curious isn't it? There were obviously a lot of losers. South Dakotans and people who wanted to become South Dakotans lost money, jobs, and in at least one instance their lives. So it really strikes me as strange when Mr. Rounds insists we didn't lose anything. I guess he means the state didn't lose any tax revenue. But that doesn't really cover it, does it?

  32. Lynn 2014.09.08

    JeniW If I remember correctly I believe after White Oak Global Advisors stated that they would pay the former employees after NBP was purchased. I don't know if that happened or if there are any remaining contractors still owed. Perhaps David Newquist may know.

    It was sad to read about those employees that lost their jobs and were not paid. They were financially vulnerable and had moved to Aberdeen to work at that plant. Many left after it closed feeling burned. There was a negative financial ripple effect that hit Aberdeen after the closure. NBP was like a non ending poor drama that just continued for years that ended painfully.

    Hopefully the White Oak will get that plant operational but as stated before by commenters in this blog the plant has several deficiencies(due to going the cheap/hack job route) that need to be corrected before it can be profitable. Aberdonians are skeptical but hopeful realizing it could make a big positive impact on the community if it reaches it's potential.

  33. Tara Volesky 2014.09.08

    Sad to say that Anne is correct, the vast majority of people in SD don't care or never heard of EB-5. The majority of people won't even vote. Jeremiah Murphy is spreading news all over his fb that Brenden Johnson has been claiming that SD is not a corrupt state. Go figure.

  34. Lynn 2014.09.08

    Didn't one of the commenters post earlier that it maybe wise to purchase airtime on the TV and radio stations to explain in an easy to follow story line of what EB-5/GOED is, what happened, who was responsible and most importantly how it affected South Dakotans? Can this happen? Would there be a discounted rate if it is political?

  35. mike from iowa 2014.09.08

    A key element in the S.D. EB-5 situation is the unique transformation of the federally recognized regional center that handles all the incoming cash from the aliens. From 1994 until 2009, the center was a state-taxpayer-supported entity of Northern State University in Aberdeen, according to an article in the local paper, the Argus Leader. Joop Bollen, an immigrant from the Netherlands, was the state-funded executive in charge of the center during these years. I do not know how much the state invested in the program over those 15 years, but it is clear that the center became adept at attracting foreign (EB-5) investments during this period.

    This may be hard to believe, but in 2009 Bollen convinced the Rounds administration to convert the regional center from a publicly-owned entity to a for-profit to be controlled by Bollen. The state agreed to contract out its regional center powers to that outfit, in return for a small percentage of fees generated by the organization. (Current Governor Dennis Daugaard, another Republican, cancelled the contract in 2013 and apparently placed the regional center activities in hands of state officials.)

  36. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.08

    Tara and Anne,
    Can you direct us to the most recent poll that shows that "the vast majority of South Dakotans don't know about EB-5? If there isn't a poll, how did you arrive at your conclusions?
    Now, let's assume for a minute that Mike Rounds is elected to the senate and Daugaard is reelected as governor, does that put an end to the EB-5 scandal? I'm reminded of the Watergate scandal when Agnew was forced to resign for accepting contractor kickbacks, the Nixon White House rejoiced saying that was the end of Watergate and it would go no further. We all know what happened.
    It is also likely that the vast majority of South Dakotans don't know or care about Rounds' EB-5 scandal, actually that wouldn't be surprising and only reinforces the fact that Marty Jackley and the SDGOP's cover up and stonewalling are working to Rounds' advantage.
    Why isn't South Dakota media covering this scandal more intently, quite simple, look at their advertisers and their political affiliations.
    Anne, do you think Rounds, Daugaard, Jackley, and Bollen will show up at the GOAC's Sept. 24 hearing with their hands on the Bible? It could well be that their damned if they do and damned if they don't.
    The questions and investigation about EB-5 will not stop after the general election, the stink on the shiny suits of Daugaard and Rounds will follow them into governors office and the halls of congress respectively.

  37. Roger Elgersma 2014.09.08

    Donald Pay is right when he says that the elitists are after out of state big money rather than build the state with South Dakotans. I remember a post Cory did a while back that Gov. Daugaard was going to China to drum up business when we were already in fiftyeth place of states doing business with China. He stated that with the EB-5 thing why would China want to invest or do business with a state that just milked them for millions. I saw absolutely nothing on the news about Daugaards visit to China since we apparently did no business at all. So the common person did not see the totally devastating impact on that out of country money so they do not talk about it. So Anne Beal shoots off her totally unethical mouth talking about that it makes no difference how bad it is if no one knows so that no one talks about it. I sure hope she is not related to the Beal who hauls beer, who is running for legislature in district 12. We sure do not need such unethical people in the legislature who think it not a problem no matter how bad something is as long as no one knows.

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