That context has to include the sentencing of Joop Bollen, the main figure in the state's recent EB-5 fiasco. First off, with respect to the Rardon case, I'm not criticizing or second-guessing the decision made by 4th Circuit Court judge Michelle Percy. The punishment fits the crime and sends a message to those who would help themselves to money intended for the public good. It's Rardon's punishment compared to Bollen's that seems systemically incongruent. Last February, Bollen was convicted via a plea agreement of diverting more than $1.2 million belonging to the state and received a $2 thousand dollar fine and two years probation. That Bollen "put back most of the money" (how much is "most" is a number I haven't been able to find) is irrelevant because the money was not his to use and he may well have never been able to pay it back. The State of South Dakota is not a piggy bank.
More to the point, Bollen's actions, when seen in light of their consequences for our state, did an awful lot of harm with much broader implications than Rardon's. To give you an idea of how far-reaching Bollen's transgressions turned out to be, the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Immigration Studies calculated that the "cash for green cards" EB-5 program lost South Dakota more than $100 million after Bollen took the program over via his private company, which he formed in some very shady dealings after running it for the state. The list of shenanigan's have been meticulously laid out by CIS and RCJ correspondent Bob Mercer, an accounting of which doesn't seem to be much of a priority to South Dakota officials. Those alone amount to a pretty sizable hill of very expensive beans. More consequential is the near-loss of the EB-5 program to South Dakota, which was allowed to survive after a federal investigation last March concluded that "state officials should share the blame" for the center's problems. All of this was wrought by Bollen's separation of the EB-5 program from the State of South Dakota to himself. And for this he got a tiny fine and probation.
Like Heidelberger, in context I'm plenty disturbed by Rardon's likely 5 year term in the slammer after absconding with less than $50 thousand. "If you can't do the time, don't do the crime" is a harsh principle, but one that is commonly understood by the criminal class. On the other hand, if you consort with highly-placed officials in South Dakota government, Joop Bollen's experience suggests a corollary: "If you can't do the time, go ahead and do the crime anyway."