- Associated Press - Thursday, October 2, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - South Dakota’s Board of Regents is refusing to release documents about potential conflicts of interest regarding Joop Bollen, the former director of a troubled immigration program.

The board denied an open records request from the Argus Leader newspaper (https://argusne.ws/1yAd8j3 ). The records are not public documents because they deal with personnel information, Regents attorney Jim Shekleton said.

Bollen headed the EB-5 investment-for-green card 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 served as president.

Employees of the state’s university system have to fill out annual “conflicts of interest disclosure” forms, listing any outside entities they have a substantial interest in that relate to their official duties. Employees also must get supervisor signatures on formal requests to work for outside entities, and then file a report summarizing the outside work.

The Board of Regents is not releasing any such forms filled out by Bollen.

Transparency advocates acknowledge that conflict-of-interest forms for mid-level employees such as Bollen can be a gray area, but they say the public interest is better served by disclosure.

“Often the farther away from decision-making power you go, the less rigorous the (public disclosure) requirements on you,” said Emily Shaw, national policy manager for the nonprofit Sunlight Foundation. “If nobody is looking at these forms, you don’t really have meaningful conflict-of-interest policies in place here - and yet money is still going to these people.”

Bollen has refused to testify before the Legislature’s Government Operations and Audit Committee about his handling of the EB-5 program. He also has refused to speak publicly about the controversy.

South Dakota was one of the pioneers in EB-5 financing under Bollen and former Governor’s Office of Economic Development secretary Richard Benda. But in recent years, South Dakota’s EB-5 program has been investigated by state and federal authorities. Benda committed suicide last year as state officials prepared felony theft charges.

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


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