After a three-year investigation, the first criminal charges have been filed in the state's EB-5 case.
Joop Bollen, the owner of the South Dakota Regional Center in Aberdeen, is now facing felony charges for misusing federal funds intended to recruit foreign investors for the EB-5 program for the Northern Beef Packers plant.
The investigation into the state's EB-5 program began in April of 2013, but before charges could be filed, Richard Benda with the South Dakota Department of Tourism and State Development died of suicide in October 13.
The investigations continued, but in December of 2014, a state legislative audit found Benda solely responsible for misusing the federal funds.
Then in June of last year, the FBI closed its own EB-5 investigation without filing criminal charges.
Thursday, South Dakota attorney general Marty Jackley said new evidence has surfaced, warranting criminal charges.
“We found that based upon the information discovered throughout the investigation as well as the new information that came to light in December of 2015, that ultimately criminal charges were warranted,” Jackley said.
The charges filed Thursday are based on an affidavit of a special agent with the state Department of Criminal Investigation.
According to agent Jon Bierne, Joop Bollen used more than $1.2 million in federal funds for his personal benefit, bringing a total of five counts against him.
“They are felony charges, tomorrow [Friday] in open court we will be further discussing the penalties; it does involve approximately one and a quarter million dollars,” Jackley said.
With the misuse of so much tax payer money, many South Dakotans have been eager to see charges filed for years.
“The long time-frame it took for charges to be brought shows that the citizenry has to hold the government accountable,” Executive Director of the South Dakota Democratic Party Suzanne Jones Pranger said.
South Dakota Democrats were one group openly calling for criminal charges in the EB-5 case.
“It’s pretty clear from the evidence we already had, that there was a significant mishandling of money. Since it was significant enough for charges to be filed against Richard Benda, it shouldn't be surprising for charges to be filed against Bollen and now we're finally seeing that come to light,” Pranger said.
South Dakota Democrats say they believe pressure from the federal government also played a role in continuing the state’s EB-5 investigation.
“The fact that the federal government said that south Dakota was too corrupt to participate in that EB-5 program. I think brought to light new elements of this investigation and that ultimately is why we're seeing charges today,” Pranger said.
Thursday South Dakota Governor Dennis augured commended the attorney general for his efforts in the investigation, also saying “the wheels of justice turn slowly, but the state continues to pursue this matter in civil and criminal court.”
Jackley says Bollen is innocent until proven guilty and the charges filed against him are preliminary, meaning they could be amended or additional charges may be added throughout the ongoing case.