SIOUX FALLS, S.D. -- The FBI recently released its heavily redacted file on EB-5 scandal subject Richard Benda.
Some of the documents have previously been released.
Benda, a former South Dakota cabinet secretary for the Department of Tourism and Development in the Mike Rounds administration and former economic development director for the city of Watertown, allegedly committed suicide while hunting near Lake Andes, S.D. on October. 20, 2013.
He worked to bring in wealthy Chinese investors for the now-defunct Northern Beef Packers plant. The EB-5 visa program made it possible for foreign investors who invested $500,000 or more in a project that created a certain number of jobs to obtain a green card to work in the United States.
Former S.D. Attorney General Marty Jackley says he was preparing to prosecute Benda prior to his death. The U.S. Attorney's Office was also rumored to be looking into a case against Benda.
Jackley drew up documents accusing Benda of felony theft for allegedly double-billing the state and misdirecting state money to his own salary.
Benda's death and the EB-5 matter became one of the major issues in both the 2014 Republican U.S. Senate primary that Rounds won and during the general election against Democrat Rick Weiland and Independent Larry Pressler which Rounds won.
Most of the documents in the FBI file are heavily redacted, with even the names of witnesses removed. However, there is an exchange between FBI agent Ted Miller and U.S. Attorney investigator Jim Flanagan and Dennis Hellwig and Norg Sanderson, two of the men behind starting NBP. The interview took place on June 21, 2013, four months before Benda's death.
At page 66:
TED MILLER: Now one of the things that I've heard is that, you know, the plant that you wanted to start, Dennis, was going to process a certain amount of head per day to be efficient, be productive. But from what I understand the State wanted it much bigger?
DENNIS HELLWIG: No.
TED MILLER No? Okay.
NORG SANDERSON: The State couldn' t know. They couldn't figure out a beef plant if you asked them
JIM FLANAGAN They just wanted certified beef done.
NORG SANDERSON: They just wanted a processing plant, but they wanted to be a part of it.
JIM FIANAGAN1 Right.NORG SANDERSON You know what I mean?
JIM FLANAGAN: Okay. Now...
NORG SANDERSON: This is political, this is all political. It's got nothing to do with money or it's got--
JIM FLANAGAN: And that' s exactly what I want to get into is the nature of the thing. So I'm not talking about--I want to know about you, did you have any specific conversations with Benda about this stuff?
NORG SANDERSON: No.
JIM FLANAGAN: No. Just when you were attending one with Dennis and the conversation--
NORG SANDERSON: Yeah.
There also, apparently, was a federal grand jury, as subpoenas were filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of South Dakota.
On May 14, 2014, the FBI interviewed a person with some kind of knowledge about Benda and suspected foul play. The FBI notes:
At p. 108:
BLANK had suspicions regarding the death of Richard Benda. BLANK Has talked to people that have stated they do not think Benda 's death was an accident . BLANK was suspicious about Benda's death because the state investigated his death. BLANK Did not have any further information regarding Benda's death.
In another interview with a different individual on May 9, 2019, that person also had suspicions about Benda's death.
BLANK concluded that Benda's death was a tragedy and that he was unsure whether it was a suicide or a hunting accident, Benda gave no signs of suicidal behavior and that (LONG BLANK PASSAGE).
The investigation eventually wound its way to Hong Kong, involving the U.S. Consulate, the Hong Kong Police Force, Hong Kong Customs and Excise, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Hong Kong Department of Justice, and other entities,
Sometime during the investigation, the federal government through the U.S. District Court served subpoenas on individuals or for documents on unnamed people or entities on unnamed dates for a grand jury.
Again, these are just some of the readable or understandable fragments in the 138 pages that the FBI released in the Benda matter.