South Dakota Swindle

$145.0 million

Aberdeen, SD

2004 - 2017

The State of South Dakota has long used the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program to attract investment to the state for economic development. The Program, initially a state-run operation, was housed in the Department of Tourism and Development and headed by Joop Bollen. In 2009, Bollen formed the South Dakota Regional Center (SDRC) and privatized South Dakota’s EB-5 operations through a contract with the state.

Working closely with the South Dakota Economic Development Secretary Richard Benda, Bollen and the SDRC garnered investments from 190 Chinese and Korean visa-seekers totaling over $100 million for the development of a meat-packing plant in Aberdeen.The plant went bankrupt and closed less than a year after opening in 2012. Subsequently, 35 Chinese investors sued Bollen and the State of South Dakota, accusing Bollen and Benda of misrepresenting the financial soundness of the project.

Benda, who left his post as Secretary of Economic Development to join SDRC, became the subject of a criminal investigation for allegedly diverting $550,00 in state revenues to SDRC before committing suicide while the investigation was ongoing.

Bollen is the subject of several other EB-5 related lawsuits in the state, including one brought by Tentexkota LLC involving a financially-troubled hotel and casino project, dubbed Deadwood Mountain Grand, that purportedly raised $32.5 million from EB-5 investors.

Ultimately, Bollen was charged with five felonies related to his misuse of EB-5 funds, which included the purchase of an expensive Egyptian artifact. In January 2017, Bollen pleaded guilty to one felony count and was sentenced to probation.