- Associated Press - Friday, October 17, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A court deposition by the former leader of South Dakota’s investment-for-green card program said there was little state oversight of the program, which has become an issue in the election campaign for an open U.S. Senate seat.

Joop 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 a company Bollen had founded and for which he served as president.

Bollen said in a deposition that was part of a now-dismissed breach-of-contract lawsuit against the program that he tried to create a flexible environment, the Argus Leader newspaper reported (https://argusne.ws/103Jvrj ). That included creating an entity outside state government to make agreements. Bollen didn’t disclose he owned the company, however.

“I don’t think anybody ever reviewed any of these documents,” Bollen said about agreements between his agency and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “It just was pretty much an automatic approval that we would get for these projects.”

State officials have refused to release Bollen’s deposition. An attorney with the California company that unsuccessfully sued South Dakota released it to journalist Bob Mercer, who made it public Thursday.

South Dakota was one of the pioneers in EB-5 financing under Bollen and former Governor’s Office of Economic Development secretary Richard Benda. The program recruits wealthy immigrant investors for projects in exchange for green cards. But in recent years, South Dakota’s EB-5 program has been investigated by state and federal authorities. Bollen has been accused of financial misconduct, and Benda committed suicide last year as state officials prepared felony theft charges against him.

The matter also has become an issue in the South Dakota race for U.S. Senate. Republican candidate Mike Rounds was governor during the time that the EB-5 program fell into disarray. Rounds has said he was not personally aware of the lawsuit when it was filed.

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Information from: Argus Leader, https://www.argusleader.com


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