FBI closes EB-5 investigation; no charges brought
The FBI announced Monday it has closed its investigation into South Dakota's investment-for-visa program and the state's U.S. Attorney would not pursue any prosecution.
The program called EB-5 to recruit investment dollars from wealthy immigrants in exchange for easier entry into the U.S. came under scrutiny after the death of a former state official and allegations of financial misconduct. The program and surrounding scandal were frequent talking points during South Dakota's U.S. Senate race last year, with now-U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds criticized by his opponents for his management of the program as governor.
Some questions and answers about what Monday's news means:
REMIND ME WHAT EB-5 IS AGAIN?
It's a state-run federal program that allows states to recruit wealthy immigrant investors for projects in exchange for green cards. Investors approved for the federal program can become legal permanent residents after two years and can later be eligible to become citizens.
South Dakota was one of the states that led the way in EB-5 financing under Joop Bollen and former Governor's Office of Economic Development secretary Richard Benda. But the program came under fire after Benda committed suicide in 2013 as state officials prepared felony theft charges against him.
Bollen headed the EB-5 program for the state when he was in charge of the South Dakota International Business Institute at Northern State University. The program was privatized in 2009 and turned over to SDRC Inc., a company Bollen had founded and for which he served as president.
The Governor's Office of Economic Development terminated its contract with SDRC last year and now administers the program.
WHAT HAPPENED MONDAY?
An investigation into South Dakota's EB-5 program and SDRC, which had been underway since at least 2013, has been closed. Kyle Loven, the FBI spokesman in Minneapolis, said the agency concluded its investigation recently and forwarded its findings to the office of acting U.S. Attorney Randy Seiler. Seiler's office declined to comment, but Loven confirmed Seiler decided not to pursue prosecution based on the FBI's findings.
WHAT WAS THE FBI LOOKING INTO?
It's still not entirely clear. Loven declined to discuss the details of the investigation or who the agency was looking into, but said the FBI had been investigating the program based on "allegations, which came to our attention."
Bollen, who has rarely spoken publicly about his involvement in the program, declined to comment to The Associated Press on Monday about the investigation. He told legislators in November that he had been interviewed twice by the FBI in 2013 and both interviews focused on Benda.
He said then that he was told Benda was the target of the investigation and that because of an active investigation into the EB-5 program and SDRC Inc., there were limits on what he could say.
DOES THIS MEAN THE COMMOTION OVER EB-5 IS OVER? WHAT'S LEFT?
The political fallout is likely over now, but state officials are still investigating how to claw back roughly $1 million in public funds.
A legislative audit committee released a report in December that found Benda was the only person responsible for more than $500,000 in "misdirected" funds.
Tony Venhuizen, chief of staff to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, said Monday the state "continues to consider its options regarding any claims the state might have."
The South Dakota Board of Regents is also evaluating how to recover about $510,000 in fees related to a lawsuit against the state, according to Jack Warner, the board's CEO.
- South Dakota
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