South Dakota charges former official in immigration scandal

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 31, 2016 8:11 PM

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) — South Dakota on Thursday charged the former official who ran an investment-for-visa program with five felony counts including that he diverted into his company account more than $1.2 million that was supposed to stay in an account to compensate the state for losses.

State Attorney General Marty Jackley said that Joop Bollen turned himself in on an arrest warrant and has been freed on bond. Bollen declined to comment when reached via telephone by The Associated Press. His first court appearance was scheduled for Friday in Aberdeen.

"Ultimately, as we continue the investigation and review and continue the criminal process, there may be additional charges forthcoming," Jackley said.

The charges deal with SDRC Inc., a regional center that previously handled South Dakota's participation in the EB-5 immigration visa program, which recruits investment dollars from wealthy immigrants in exchange for easier entry into the United States.

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 SDRC, a company Bollen had founded and for which he served as president, until the state took over management in 2013.

Bollen is accused of inappropriately transferring money from an account in violation of an agreement with the state.

Authorities allege that Bollen inappropriately transferred the more than $1.2 million on different occasions in 2012 out of the account meant to protect the state, though money in matching amounts was largely put back in to replenish the money taken. They said most of the transfers from the fund in question went directly into his company's main account.

In one case, an amount of the same size, nearly $97,000, was paid on the same day to a dealer for an Egyptian artifact. Other linked transactions flagged by investigators included the purchase of bonds, a loan to another person and $310,000 wired to a collector of Egyptian artifacts, according to a court affidavit.

An investigator said in a court document that a transfer for more than $166,000 doesn't appear to have been paid back into the fund, which SDRC was required by the state to establish.

South Dakota's EB-5 program came under scrutiny after the death of a former state official and allegations of financial misconduct. The program and surrounding scandal were an issue during South Dakota's 2014 U.S. Senate race, when now-U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds was criticized by opponents for his management of the program as governor. Efforts to reach Rounds for comment were not successful.

South Dakota was one of the states that championed the immigration program for investors, which was led by Bollen and former Governor's Office of Economic Development secretary Richard Benda. Benda committed suicide in 2013 as state officials prepared felony theft charges against him.

"The wheels of justice turn slowly, but the state continues to pursue this matter in civil and criminal court," South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard said in a statement. "I appreciate the Attorney General's efforts in this investigation."

___

This story has been corrected to show that the U.S. Senate race was in 2014, not last year.