Columnist and blogger Bob Mercer got Joop Bollen's deposition today. Bollen is the central figure in the Slaughterhouse EB-5 fiasco that has been consuming a lot of attention in recent months. According to this recap from the D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, the "cash for green cards" program, run by Bollen, cost South Dakota $120 million from roughly 2008-2010, maybe longer. We'll find out if the operation's books and records ever come public, which hasn't been the easiest thing to do since the set-up exploded into the public's mind with the suicide of one of its key players, a gentleman named Richard Benda, a year ago. In a lawsuit that was recently arbitrated, Bollen gave a deposition last April that has long been considered a motherlode of information regarding his involvement in the program, first as a public employee running it on behalf of the state, then as a private entrepeneur contracting his services to South Dakota. The secret transition from public to private operation is what caused the huge diversion of money that would have gone to South Dakota but instead went to Bollen's company.
So far Mercer has published a part of the full deposition. It's in today's Aberdeen American News--presumably all of it will eventually find the light of publication. For now it gives a quick picture of what happened after Bollen privatized the business. His testimony gives me a sense that the South Dakota Board of Regents, who were jointly overseeing and funding the program with Governor Mike Rounds office, got their fill of this operation by 2009, shortly after Bollen turned it into his own private venture. Bollen testified that by 2009 "it became clear that the university had no interest in this program anymore . . . everything froze, no discussions were being made, my travel was not being approved and the writing was on the wall that the Board of Regents did not want to be part of the international activities . . ." Bollen goes on to say that by then "the governor's office . . . wanted to take management back to the state but they realized that they could not effectively manage it themselves."
As if it needs more contradiction by now, Republican senate candidate Mike Rounds--who was Governor when all this was going on--and his repeated attempts to push responsibility for this fiasco off on the Regents gets another blow. Mercer notes that Bollen testified that while still a public employee of the university system he was partially funded by the governor's office and provided monthly reports to the Governor's Office of Economic Development. It was during the period that Bollen was still operating as a public employee at Aberdeen's Northern State University that he secretly created his private firm and contracted with the state, himself signing as an agent of the state and using a front man named James Park to sign for the company!
And here's where the abracadabra of the whole thing was conjured up. How did Bollen get away with such a gross act of conflict-of-interest in the first place? So far, no one seems to know.