- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 22, 2014

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - Former Gov. Mike Rounds said he was aware before finishing his term in December 2010 that his economic development secretary Richard Benda would be leaving his state job to work for an investor in a scandal-smeared beef plant in Aberdeen.

Rounds learned of Benda’s future about the time the governor approved Benda’s proposal to give Northern Beef Packers more state aid, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1teJoEi ) reported Wednesday. Rounds said he doesn’t recall exactly when he became aware of Benda’s future job, which makes it impossible to determine whether Rounds approved the $600,000 in state aid before or after he learned Benda would work for the Northern Beef investor.

“My staff told me that when he was leaving state government, he was going to work for an investor in the beef plant,” said Rounds, who is now a U.S. Senate candidate. Benda didn’t identify which investor he would be working for, and Rounds said he didn’t prod Benda further.

Benda, while on the state’s payroll, hand-delivered the state aid’s check to the beef plant and was later accused of redirecting the money to pay his own salary.

A state audit later found Benda failed to disclose his employment future and should’ve been required to “remove himself from involvement in subsequent matters relating to” the plant.

Benda went on to work to SDRC Inc., the then-administrator in the state of a federal investment-for-green-card program, which provided most of funding for Northern Beef.

Rounds has been dogged by criticism of how he managed EB-5, a federal program he championed as governor to recruit foreign investors to South Dakota projects.

South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley earlier this year told lawmakers he was ready to file felony theft charges and seek an indictment against Benda days before he committed suicide last fall. Jackley said he would have charged Benda with three alternate felony counts alleging he illegally obtained $550,000 in economic development money intended for the beef plant and double-billed the state for three flights.

Lawmakers are now considering a conflict of interest rule being drafted for the next legislative session that would require state employees to wait a year before seeking employment at a business they deal with.

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

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