- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

RAPID CITY, S.D. (AP) - The federal government has taken another step toward terminating South Dakota’s troubled immigration program that recruits wealthy foreign investors for projects in exchange for green cards.

A July 7 U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services notice calls the state’s defense of the program “unpersuasive,” ”erroneous” and “unacceptable,” the Rapid City Journal reported (https://bit.ly/2ac9MKx ).

The agency’s notice says the South Dakota Regional Center’s participation in the federal EB-5 program should be terminated for reasons including the diversion of millions of investor dollars away from intended purposes. The decision isn’t final because the agency sent it to its own Administrative Appeals Office for a review, which could take six months.

The man who once ran South Dakota’s EB-5 center faces trial in February for alleged financial misconduct. The state maintains it was unaware of the alleged actions by Joop Bollen and is thus not culpable.

Bollen’s attorney has said the state is trying to make him a scapegoat for the program that degenerated into scandal with the October 2013 death of Richard Benda, the former head of what was then the Department of Tourism and State Development.

Benda’s death was ruled a suicide, and it was later revealed that he had been accused of stealing state grant money intended for a meatpacking project that received EB-5 funding and was facing prosecution.

Citizenship and Immigration Services notified the state last fall that it intended to terminate the program, and gave the state time to offer reasons why that shouldn’t happen. The agency was not swayed by the state’s arguments, saying “it has always been the state’s responsibility to ensure monitoring, oversight and due diligence.”

The state has kept the regional center open to avoid negative consequences for foreigners who made investments through the center. Gov. Dennis Daugaard’s spokesman says about 75 foreigners are still awaiting decisions on visas for investments they made through the center.

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