There is one unifying element in this entire Slaughterhouse EB-5 mess: Everybody involved is/was working for the people of South Dakota either as an elected or appointed official. Trying to sort this thing out has been a huge challenge, mainly because there is an inherent and self-defeating flaw in the process: We're asking these people to investigate themselves. I understand that there may or may not be a federal investigation looking into this complex mess, but to me that's another affair. As a resident of South Dakota I think I'm on solid ground when I say that it's time for our state's authorities to have a look. An outsider with no political ties to the events or the players is probably the only realistic way to get the story. That would call for a special prosecutor from outside the government with no possible political or personal conflicts of interest.
True, there's been some lip- and pro forma-service on that score, but really, the efforts have been far less than conclusive--to the point of actually being laughable. A few days ago, during a "hearing" on the matter, the SD state legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee held a one-day reading of written responses from Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Mike Rounds, who was governor when the mess congealed into a multi-million dollar fiasco between 2008-2010. Rounds didn't even appear in person, which made it impossible for committee members to get some contextual answers and a more complete picture of the situation. GOAC is planning another hearing, after the November election, apparently not interested in ruffling any political feathers until then.
That the committee neither subpoenaed nor requested written testimony from Joop Bollen, the state operative who turned the whole EB-5 program from a SD-run venture into a lucrative business for himself, says all you need to know about the legislature's lack of interest in finding out what actually happened. Come this morning's Rapid City Journal, we learned that Bollen, the pivotal figure in this drama, sought an immunity deal from his bosses at the South Dakota Board Of Regents (note: my sister-in-law Kathryn Johnson is a Regent, and we don't communicate regarding this matter). The Regents oversaw his activites when EB-5 was a state university-run (from 1994-2008) entity. Now the Regents are being sued by a California firm that was involved in recruiting international investors for South Dakota's EB-5 projects. Bollen wanted immunity in the case. The Regents, per the RCJ piece, did not grant Bollen's request, which compels two questions: Why did he request immunity? Why didn't the Regents grant it?
Meantime, there are issues of financial misappropriation, the bankruptcy of a centerpiece EB-5 deal, a suicide by a key state official involved in the imbroglio, and lots and lots and lots of unanswered questions that boil down to "who knew what, and when?" Add to that the fact that the State of South Dakota appears to be out $120 million in fees racked up by EB-5 investors, and the sum of it all is that a complete investigation is called for at this point. South Dakota State Attorney General Marty Jackley, an elected Republican, can't do this job, and shouldn't be expected to. About a year ago, when the state administration was asked to appoint a special prosecutor, Jackley refused and said there was "no legal or factual basis to do so." The request came from the South Dakota Democratic Party.
The request this time is coming from a registered Republican--me. I can't speak to the legal basis, but it sure seems obvious that after a year of factual basis after factual basis after factual basis gets disclosed that South Dakotans deserve some answers. If Governor Daugaard is committed to getting at the truth of this mess, then he'll overrule Jackley and get to the facts of the matter by appointing a special prosecutor. My readers should feel free to forward this post to the relevant officials in Pierre.