- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 24, 2014

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A panel looking into an embattled visa program designed to lure wealthy immigrants to invest in rural South Dakota projects will ask the former administrator’s supervisors at Northern State University and on the state Board of Regents to testify.

State Rep. Larry Tidemann, chairman of the Government Operations and Audit Committee, said Wednesday that he’ll call on former EB-5 administrator Joop Bollen’s supervisors to testify. Bollen worked for Northern State University in Aberdeen when, documents indicate, he signed an agreement with his own company to manage some of the investments without his superiors’ knowledge. His supervisors included the state Board of Regents and university leaders.

The committee also reviewed written answers provided by Gov. Dennis Daugaard and former Gov. Mike Rounds, both Republicans, about the EB-5 program. Daugaard is running for re-election, and Rounds is seeking the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson. The program has become an issue in the Senate race.

The federal EB-5 program allows foreign investors to obtain a green card with a $500,000 investment in an approved rural project that creates at least 10 jobs. A beef packing plant approved as part of the program, which also received state economic development money, went bust while Rounds was governor. Democrats say millions in taxpayer dollars may have been lost.

The state faces a breach-of-contract lawsuit that Democrats say stem from Bollen’s actions. The lawsuit alleges Bollen acted without authority in recruiting Asian investors.

The GOP majority on the panel voted to hold the next hearing on Nov. 14, after the Nov. 4 election, but state Rep. Susan Wismer and state Sen. Larry Lucas, both Democrats, voted against. Wismer is running for governor against Daugaard in November.

Tidemann said one of the questions he has for the regents is how much has been spent defending the state against the lawsuit. Wismer said lawyers have billed the state $250,000 so far this year.

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