Monday, June 1, 2015

Forget It, Jake. It's Chinatown.

     The federal authorities, i.e., the FBI and the U.S. Attorney have closed  the case on South
No Longer A Federal Beef
Will The State Of SD Care?
(photo from www.ksfy.com)
Dakota's infamous EB-5 imbroglio.
EB-5 is the federal "cash for green cards" program that South

Dakota used to obtain investment financing from well-heeled foreigners who would fork over $500 thousand in exchange for permanent residence in the United States, the money going to private sector investments in hopes of creating jobs. Given all the fees attached to the program, some pretty hefty sums of money were raised  through it here in South Dakota, where it began as a state-operated venture then was somehow transferred from the state to a private individual named Joop Bollen. This was an expensive change of course, costing the State of South Dakota as much as $120 million according to an analysis by the Washington D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies.  
     That's a lot of dough for a small state like South Dakota.  I've seen the figure questioned but not challenged by any facts or analysis.  Overstated or not, though, the loss to South Dakota has to have been substantial, and it generated a lot of coverage and conversation during last year's election campaign.  Today's announcement by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney closes out the prospect of federal involvement in the case--and given the superficial investigation conducted by the South Dakota Legislature's Government Operations and Audit Committee last Fall, there probably isn't much appetite among our locally elected officials for prying into this thing with much more than the pro forma sham of an investigation they conducted in 2014, during which, to show the committee's lack of zeal, they allowed Bollen to submit written answers to written questions. A bunch of Perry Masons
And Lets Not Forget, Joop Bollen
Getchur Green Cards Here!

(photo from iiusa.org)
our legislators were not.

     So before this deftly constructed scheme to transfer millions of dollars from the State of South Dakota to a privately run organization created and headed by Bollen gets swept entirely under the rug, a few questions remain.  I'll raise some of them in the same order as my good friend Cory Heidelberger has in his excellent blog Dakota Free Press. Heidelberger's work on this has been persistent and thorough, and as he lays it out,  all South Dakotans should wonder 1) how Joop Bollen, who began the program by working for Northern State University, was able to walk away from NSU with all the books and records connected to EB-5, material that belonged to the state, not to him; 2) how Bollen was able to "win" the contract to operate the EB-5 program on a no-bid basis, with Bollen's major source of compensation coming not from the paltry $45 thousand/yr he was charging South Dakota but from the enormously lucrative fees generated by investors to him for his management work; 3) how Bollen essentially signed the contract creating this set-up with himself on behalf of the state; and 4) how Bollen attempted to smooth over some legal entanglements by submitting a brief for  the state without telling his superiors.
    There's more, much more to be learned, of course, but institutionalized indifference to the millions of dollars that were directed away from South Dakota to the schemers who pocketed the money will probably keep a lid on the flow of fresh information.  You might get discouraged but you might also remember:  this is the government that we elect.  There are politically productive ways of channeling your frustration.  Barring that, you might as well forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.  
     

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