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State Destroyed Benda Evidence Four Years Ago, Thinks E-Mail Too Costly to Store

Sorry, Jeff Barth: your lawsuit is already too late to stop the state from destroying some EB-5 evidence. Seth Tupper finds the state deleted Richard Benda's e-mails just weeks after he jumped the ship of state with his half-million-dollar life preserver from Mike Rounds... in accordance with state policy:

The policy says that when employees delete an individual email, that deleted email is retained by the system no longer than 37 days; when an employee leaves state government, the employee’s entire email account is deleted as soon as 30 days later.

So last spring, when investigators were examining records from Benda’s final days in office for evidence of criminal activity, there was no state email account of his to comb through. Investigators obtained and re-created some emails through other investigative means, according to state Attorney General Marty Jackley, who acknowledged the task was made more difficult because of the deletion of Benda’s email account [Seth Tupper, "SD Email Policy: Don't Ask, Don't Keep," Rapid City Journal, 2014.09.28].

Governor Dennis Daugaard sends his poor spokesman Tony Venhuizen out to say silly things about how hard it is to store e-mail:

Venhuizen said the state’s current email system comprises 11 terabytes of storage.

“That’s large, and for that reason, backing up the older messages is kept to a minimum to keep down the expense of storing multiple copies,” he said [Tupper, 2014.09.28].

Tupper snorts milk onto his notepad and points out that one can buy a 12-terabyte external storage unit for $2,200. But always buy for the storage you'll need later, not the storage you need now. For $2,200 we can get order one Western Digital 12-TB unit for the current e-mail system for $650 and a Buffalo 16-TB unit for the next five years of e-mail for $1,317, have someone swing by Best Buy and grab three 1-TB portable drives for $62 a pop, and still have $47 left to take our tech guy out to Red Rossa.

The technological and financial difficulty of storing state e-mails for investigative and historical purposes is trivial. Using those portable drives, we can get a terabyte of storage for $62. Try storing that much information on paper, at two kilobytes per typed page (remember, kilo- means thousands; tera- means trillion), and you'll need one million reams of paper, which at a dollar a ream would cost one million dollars. Multiply that by the 31 terabytes of storage I just priced for the state at Amazon and Best Buy, and we're going to need 64 more EB-5 investors to turn Northern Beef Packers into Northern Leaf Papers.

Archiving the state's e-mails is no big deal. Appropriations, move a decimal point somewhere and buy the governor some hard drives.

p.s.: Seth Tupper appears to be back in his element. After a few months as publisher at the Mitchell Daily Republic, he's back in the game writing political stories for the Rapid City Journal. Maybe I'm just optimistically imagining things, but I sense a certain pent-up enthusiasm unleashed in his hefty report on the state's memory-hole correspondence policy. Perhaps Tupper realized about himself and journalism what I know about myself and teaching: offer me a promotion to principal or superintendent, and I will say no thank you. Some of us are born for the front line.


  1. mike from iowa 2014.09.28

    Northern Leaf Papers could be quite handy (and prescient) if marijuana is ever legalized.

  2. Kate 2014.09.28

    OK, let me get this straight. The state can't spend $2,200 on electronic data storage, but has no trouble spending $20,000 on attorneys for Bollen's deposition, which, by the way, no one gets to read. Interesting what the governor finds worthy to spend taxpayer dollars on. Cover up vs. sunlight, it seems.

  3. Greg 2014.09.29

    We have Republican Marty Jackley in SD and have Democratic Eric Holder in Washington, time for the second resignation.

  4. JeniW 2014.09.29

    Jackley is not going to resign. Why would he? He is guaranteed a paycheck with benefits for at least the next four years without having to blink his eyes.

  5. Francis Schaffer 2014.09.29

    In all honesty, you would double the amount for the backup. Also, what about the cost of storing the paper copies? I believe we have more than 11 terabytes of storage at the office.

  6. Jaka 2014.09.29

    Seth Tupper is a welcome addition to the RCJ! Perhaps this part of a mega-corp will get it's dang act together and just serve us the public instead of the corporate interests!

  7. Jenny 2014.09.29

    SD govt is just as corrupted as can be. I've always heard that emails are never really 'gone', that there are ways they can be retrieved. Any IT guys here would be able to explain this better. The FBI would have ways of getting around this also.

  8. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.09.29

    Lots of offices have more than 11TB of storage. And we haven't even talked about cloud storage, which is cheap and almost instantly expandable. Governor Daugaard, how about moving our state e-mail to Gmail?

  9. Steve Sibson 2014.09.29

    It is not the cost of hardware that is the issue. It is the cost of lawsuits if an email proves wrong doing. Lawsuit settlements can be very costly, so the corporatists push their employees to destroy data that is not "active" and not the subject of "current" legal actions.

  10. Jana 2014.09.29

    Missing emails? Call Darrell Issa!

    He's on record of saying that this sort of thing is:

    "Nefarious!" "Blows a hole in credibility" "An amazing sequence of cover up and denial" "Obstruction" "I'm sick and tired of this game playing"

    I don't believe that the destruction of emails was for lack of storage. Ask them if all former employees emails are destroyed within 4 weeks of leaving.

    Tony V is obviously throwing someone under the bus and we should know who ordered the destruction of the emails?

    What is state law on records retention?

    Good job to Mr. Tupper! Keep digging!

  11. Jaka 2014.09.29

    Getting to look more like Watergate all the time, isn't it?

  12. larry kurtz 2014.09.29

    PP was in the SOS office just long enough to ensure Benda's emails were purged.

  13. Bill Dithmer 2014.09.29

    Mike, suprizingly, that was one of the reasons for this war on marijuana in the first place. Although hemp paper had been used for centuries, the process for making that paper suddenly became much easier.

    At the time all the major pulp mills in this country, and also the land where those trees were grown were owned by one man. At one time if you wanted paper for newsprint, you had to buy it from William Randolph Hearst. When hemp paper started showing up, and it was better quality then wood pulp paper, Billy saw a potential problem down the road.

    At the same time one of his papers was running stories about the devil weed that was turning blacks and Mexicans into depraved, out of control sexual pervs. Hearst saw his chance to save that fortune in pulp by connecting the relationship between hemp and marijuana. He used his power of the press, and had hemp thrown in the same legislation as the weed that made jazz musicians cool and potential rapist.

    Meanwhile, the only trouble hemp ever caused was the potential to take a bite out of one mans checking account. Money is power and power is money. WRH had both and the power of the press to keep it that way.

    Memory, its something old people want to hang on to, and evidently the state of South Dakota would rather forget.

    The Blindman

  14. Craig 2014.09.29

    Steve is right on this one... the cost of the hardware isn't the issue at all. This is just an example of the standard practice for many if not most corporations where email retention standards are strictly enforced. I'm not surprised at all the state would use a similar system (although 30 days is actually a much shorter timeframe than is considered the norm).

    If you don't have the email and you have a system in place which deletes old, obsolete, or unneeded messages from the system it limits the amount of potential discovery during lawsuits. These systems are specifically designed to protect the entity who 'owns' the email and prevents email hoarding of those employees who believe they need to save every message ever sent to them over the past decade.

    Not saying it is right - but it doesn't surprise me.

  15. Jana 2014.09.29

    Say, isn't Mike Rounds a big fan of Paul Ryan?

    Here's what Paul Ryan had to say about destroyed emails:

    "This is a pattern of abuse, a pattern of behavior that is not giving us any confidence that this agency is being impartial," Ryan said. "You ask taxpayers to hold onto seven years of their personal tax information in case they are audited and you can't keep track of emails past six months?"

    "I do not believe you. This is incredible," Ryan stressed.

  16. Jana 2014.09.29

    Come to think of it...both the governor and his boss Tony V are lawyers. Are there any lawyers out there who would think that destroying the emails of the man in charge of hundreds of economic development projects and hundreds of millions of dollars weren't worth saving?

    Oh yeah, then there's the fact that Tony was a member of the Board of Regents before perfecting the art of nepotism, certainly he knows more than he's telling.

  17. mike from iowa 2014.09.29

    Didn't a mess of celebs recently discover that supposedly deleted intimate pics were still available to be hacked?

  18. mike from iowa 2014.09.29

    Bill D-nowadays we have the koch bros denying global warming to protect their investments in bitumen from Canada. They are also invested in buying pols and elections to ensure they stay at the top of the food chain and keep the masses poor (and working for the koch bros).

  19. JR 2014.09.29

    Let me start off by saying that I'm not disagreeing. But just so no one ends up looking silly at the water cooler, I think I should point out that the cost of storing emails can't be estimated by simply pricing out some commodity disk drives. First off, the disk space used by the state's email systems is likely part of a complex Storage Array Network (SAN) or Network Attached Storage (NAS) device. You can't buy any drive off of the internet and insert it into one of these systems. They must have special hardware (and software licensing) in order to expand their capacity. Then there is the issue of backup and recovery systems that add even more costs. Depending on what email server software you use, there is often licensing costs accrued there too. Sometimes these systems have a maximum total capacity that they can accommodate. Exceeding this capacity often requires a complete replacement of the storage solution, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, sometime millions. I don't know anything about the states situation, so I can't dismiss the 30 day explanation. It is plausible that an institution trying stay within budget and avoid expensive upgrade fees could enact policies that try to eliminate any data deemed unnecessary. If you need more detail, you can ask your friendly neighborhood enterprise level IT person to give you the nitty-gritty of it all.

    The only way to really tell if this is a case of someone trying to sweep things under a rug would be find a copy of the state's email retention policy that was in effect during that time period, or to compare this incident to what happened when other employees in comparable position left positions around that same time period. If their data was also erased that quickly, it might indicate that there was no foul play here. Just miserly management of the states IT infrastructure (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing). If it wasn't, then there likely would have been an order given by someone to the folks that manage the email servers. If so, there may be people that could testify to that fact.

    Regardless of all that, 30 days is pretty thin. For practical purposes, most businesses would want to retain an employee’s email for at least a few months or a year so they can refer back to them if needed. But many don't because of the previously mentioned potential liability issues such information could present. That is why the SEC mandates that publicly traded companies to archive electronic data for six months with immediate access, and with non-immediate access for a period of at least two years. Sarbanes Oxley requires financial institutions to retain information for 5 years. It would make sense to me that we should have at least some minimal requirements for data retention for our state and local governments. While we may not be able to expand the states storage capacity with equipment from Best Buy, we can certainly expect the same level of retention and access we would require of Best Buy or any other publicly traded company. And if it helped recover the $500K missing from the EB-5 program, that would more than justify any potential costs.

  20. lesliengland 2014.09.29

    I have to say "kudos " to the rapid city mayor and his staff for refreshing transparency with local Indian people bringing the 1200 acre west side land grab to light. The city, school district, national guard and churches wound up with this choice property for development, somehow ignored federal reversionary clauses, and prospered after the 1898-1933 boarding school days at "Sioux San".

    I heard Pipe Keeper Arvol Looking Horse was trying to buy similar property for a youth university concept but in the offering process wealthy, connected locals snapped up choice hills stream fed pastoral meadows surrounded by forest service land for their trophy recreation residences and horses.

    and so it goes. watertown. chamberlain, rapid city....

  21. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.29

    Isn't destroying evidence also called obstruction of justice regardless of the reason for the destruction?

  22. JR 2014.09.29

    Probably only if the person destroying the evidence had knowledge of the crime. You can't arrest the garbage man for hauling away the trash and incinerating it just because someone else threw evidence away.

  23. mike from iowa 2014.09.29

    Tough choice-
    A) do we spend a few bucks to maybe several hundred thousand bucks to preserve potentially damning and criminal evidence that could show-
    B) conspiracy or collusion by state(present and former) officials in the possible theft of tens of millions of dollars in fees that rightfully should be state property,or
    C) basically wave bye-bye to said potentially damning evidence and assure the public you'll do better next time?

  24. Bill Dithmer 2014.09.29

    Everyone has to remember, its South Dakota we're dealing with here. It's not that someone deleted emails because they thought those emails were incriminating. The person that did it was just doing a job.

    This came from the same thinking that caused then Gov Junklow to move all the states files to Micro fish. He had a friend that owned Micro fish. Oh ya, and connecting all the colleges through the net was also Wild Bills idea. A great idea but coupled with poor software just didnt get er done. Another friend owned that poor software.

    For a few years, if someone needed a vehicle for any purpose from a meeting across the state to a van for academic contest everyone had to contact Pierre for permission to do so. Another poor idea from the convict Governor. No one to answer the, at that time, new emails, nobody to answer the phone, and in some cases approval a month after the request was made, and after the need had passed.

    That's what made that lowlife bottom feeding blowhard so special. And then there was his love of young native girls.

    The Blindman

  25. Roger Cornelius 2014.09.29

    I'm interested in the timeline of the destruction of Benda's emails.
    Within that 39 days before the emails were "permanently" deleted, did Jackley have any evidence that Benda and Bollen may be implicated in racketeering? Did Mike Rounds or Dennis Daugaard or anyone else in state government?
    If so, those emails should have been preserved as potential evidence.

  26. Kate 2014.09.29

    Roger, you pose a great question. If, as Marion tells us, Jackley had an indictment ready to present to Benda about the time of the "suicide", why would the state have deleted emails that might be valuable evidence in the case against Benda? This REALLY needs to be investigated by an agency outside of the state. There are so many SD republican pants on fire, the public can't even breath, let alone see, through the smoke!

  27. larry kurtz 2014.09.29

    One might even think of Richard Benda as a hanging chad.

  28. Jane Smith 2014.09.30

    Has anyone reviewed the business resumption process? There must be a separate business resumption system, which keeps a backup of all the data. Yes the disks themselves may be erased, but all servers are fully backed up either on a remote dupe server (at a server farm) and/or a good BR would take snap shots of certain frequency on tape the old fashioned way. Else this reeks of yet another deliberate coverup using incompetence as an excuse. Imagine, $140 million would buy supper severs with all the memory.

  29. Daniel Buresh 2014.10.02

    To implement such storage at the state level, you are looking at 6 figure costs and this wouldn't be a one-time expense. I don't see any conspiracy here. I doubt the IT dept was doing any favors for this specific case. It's more or less the result of bad procedures that were probably originally defined to save money. Not unusual at all. For how many conspiracies I've seen on here, everyone from the coroner to the IT dept must now be involved. You guys do make for some good comedy.

  30. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.10.02

    Six figures?!?! ha! Spoken like a man who would seek sweetened contracts from government patrons.

  31. Daniel Buresh 2014.10.02

    Just goes to show how little you know about technology and real world business. You'll spend 6 figures just to get that hardware to your door if a state employee ordered it directly from the manufacturer.

  32. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.10.05

    For a backup system for the entire state system, sure. To add the capacity to archive email accounts for legal discovery and historical purposes, no way. Think bigger, Dan, beyond your political apologetics for your patrons.

  33. Daniel Buresh 2014.10.27

    And now you know why I never comment much here. No matter my opinion, you and the rest of the clowns here seem to think I can't have an original thought or I am doing it to benefit some "patrons". We are all paid plants...right? I am a trained professional in this area with the credentials to support it, and you are not. You know nothing of what you speak of and the comments you make only shows your lack of education on these topics which is why you try to make it personal. You have been called out by two professionals in this field and told you are wrong. Now, please tell me again why a language teacher knows how to properly implement a secure email archiving system that would support the emails of thousands of people better than a computer scientist and software engineer.

  34. caheidelberger Post author | 2014.10.27

    Dan, please understand that given your eagerness to make stretched excuses for the powers that be, folks here are suspicious. You enjoy swinging your purported business and technical authority as a club to help you make your excuses for the powers that be, but should we really trust that authority?

    Suppose GOED faced a litigation hold order at the time Benda left his state job. How much would it cost to archive his e-mail account? How much time, how much space, how much money?

    Now suppose we did that for every employee leaving state employment. That's... what, hundreds a year? On the way out the door, we hit save.

    Or try this: suppose I want to make a cold archive of every e-mail on the server right now. How much does it cost me to burn that image onto the storage device of your choosing and then lock that device in a safe?

  35. Daniel Buresh 2014.10.28

    There is nothing political about this topic. It's crappy policy that has probably been in place for years. I really don't care why or how the policy is in place. I just know that extending those save times and creating a proper backup and storage for that data would not be cheap for as many thousands of employees that they have. It's just not as simple as putting it on a hard drive and throwing it in a safe place.

    "Suppose GOED faced a litigation hold order at the time Benda left his state job. How much would it cost to archive his e-mail account? How much time, how much space, how much money?"

    Not much if you are holding a single person's email and performing it manually. It would cost whatever you are paying a technician to store it. Maybe an hours time and a few gigs of space at most. If something happens to that info you are screwed unless it has a backup plan or redundant storage like a RAID setup for hardware failures. Then, how much paperwork and chains of command must be gone through to get it all approved and finally a task assigned to an employee to actually do it? I only ask this because working in a corp environment, by the time an idea comes up and the time it takes to set it in motion, it could be gone already. It's rather annoying.

    "Now suppose we did that for every employee leaving state employment. That's... what, hundreds a year? On the way out the door, we hit save."

    Once again, if it is manual, that could end up costing into the thousands simply in employee time if they have to do it enough. Probably cheaper than an auto backup, but you are opening yourself up to other vulnerabilities and more human error. I'm sure they have network storage space they can use, but that is going to increase that as well.

    "Or try this: suppose I want to make a cold archive of every e-mail on the server right now. How much does it cost me to burn that image onto the storage device of your choosing and then lock that device in a safe?"

    That would be an enormous image and putting it on a single hard drive probably wouldn't be smart. You would need a SAN or NAS. That realm of storage is ridiculously expensive. At that point, if you have the hardware you are going to need a backup or mirror. I don't know the total data storage they would be looking at but I would say even the smallest, reliable, and basic storage devices, you could be near 10k. Depending on the size, you can get up to 6 figures real quick. You also have to include other hardware that may be needed like a dedicated switch. Throwing a drive in a safe isn't smart and that will just be another conspiracy theory if that drive fails and there isn't a record of anything. Exchange servers are a pain and email management is not the easiest thing in the world. Just be glad hard drive manufacturers are back up and running after all the flooding in Asia b/c prices went through the roof for a long time. Storage management is on the radar of every company in this country, and the state isn't going to be excluded from those types of costly actions that are sometimes needed to maintain a certain level of integrity within our state IT systems. Can it be done for cheap? Yes, but not really...but should it? Not in my opinion. Ask any IT professional and they will tell you the same that it won't be a cheap undertaking to do it properly.

  36. larry kurtz 2014.10.28

    If this happened under a Governor Abbott or Governor Billion SDGOP would be having a cow.

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