- Associated Press - Monday, January 30, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The former administrator of South Dakota’s scandal-ridden investment-for-visa program is scheduled to appear in court this week for a change-of-plea hearing in a financial misconduct case.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said that Joop Bollen is scheduled to appear at the hearing Wednesday at the Brown County Courthouse. An attorney for Bollen declined to comment to The Associated Press.

Bollen previously pleaded innocent to felony charges that accuse him of diverting more than $1.2 million from an account created as part of a contract with the state to protect it against costs or liability from South Dakota’s EB-5 visa program. Authorities say he put back most of the money.

A February trial has been scheduled in the case. A defense attorney for Bollen said previously that the state was trying to make his client a scapegoat by bringing the charges against him.

The federal EB-5 visa program allows people to seek U.S. residency if they invest at least $500,000 in approved projects. Bollen first led South Dakota’s participation in the program as a state employee and later as the head of SDRC Inc., a private company he founded. The program was privatized in 2009 and turned over to SDRC until the state took over management in 2013.

The investment program came under fire that year after a former state official associated with it killed himself as felony theft charges were being prepared against him.

The state’s legal documents accuse Bollen, 53, of Aberdeen, of improperly transferring money out of an account that his company was supposed to maintain. In at least one case, the money was subsequently used to buy an Egyptian artifact, according to a court document.

A court affidavit said most of the money was repaid to the account, but a state investigator said in the document that a nearly $167,000 transfer does not appear to have been refunded.

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