A major middleman in the EB-5 (immigrant investor) program has been found dead, with a bullet hole in his side, on a farm in South Dakota.
Was his death an accident, or a murder?
And if the latter, did it relate to a whole series of EB-5 investments he had guided going sour, or perhaps to a feud between an in-law of his and the neighboring Sioux (the in-law is on trial for allegedly shooting five of the Indian's horses), or perhaps to something entirely different?
And will the death, if turns out to be a murder, be a factor in the upcoming Senate race in that state, to replace retiring Senator Tim Johnson (D-SD)? The dead man, Richard Benda, had been a member of the state cabinet of former governor Michael Rounds, who is the odds-on-favorite to get the GOP nomination for the open Senate seat.
The death. Although details on the death vary slightly in press accounts, it appears that Benda died on Sunday, October 20; subsequently his body was found by Jim Johanneson, his brother-in-law, in a grove of trees on the latter's farm.
According to Johanneson, Benda had been pheasant shooting; he saw the body and assumed that he had died of a heart attack. Later the sheriff rolled the body over and found a bullet hole in Benda's side.
Benda's gun (not further described) was found "lying against a tree."
If we take words for exactly what they are, "pheasant hunting" and "bullet hole" don't go together. The eyewitness account speaks of only one gun on the scene. If Benda was pheasant hunting, that gun was a shotgun. That gun would not put a "bullet hole in his side."
If we take words for exactly what they mean, this eyewitness account suggests the authorities are looking for someone who, on accident or not, shot Benda.
In other words, it appears odd that someone would be killed by a bullet wound (from a rifle or maybe a pistol) in a hunting accident during pheasant season when the main weapon is a shotgun.
The only thing that is totally clear is that Benda is dead, apparently killed by a bullet, and that the police are investigating. Everything else is speculation.
The EB-5 involvement. After Benda's death, the Aberdeen News reported:
[Former Governor] Rounds said Benda was a hard-working, effective cabinet member. He not only helped attract foreign investment for the beef plant, but also investments for other projects in the state.
"He was very knowledgeable about the EB-5 program," he said. "He worked very hard to make sure South Dakota got much-needed capital to grow our economy."
The EB-5 program grants permanent resident status (green cards) to individuals who invest at least $500,000 for new or expanding businesses. Sixty-nine Korean investors used the EB-5 program to invest in Northern Beef Packers.
One of Benda's lasting legacies will be bringing investment to South Dakota, Rounds said.
"While the beef plant in Aberdeen is not operating, that asset is not going away," he said. "Someone will eventually buy it and create jobs for Aberdeen."
The ex-governor's statement overlooked, totally, the losses suffered by the Korean investors when Northern Beef Packers went into bankruptcy, as we reported in an earlier blog.
Benda traveled to China, I was told, to generate EB-5 investments in other South Dakota enterprises, at least one of which, a dairy farm, collapsed leaving 27 alien investors with little to show for their investments, save a collection of green cards.
So did one of these thwarted investors decide to stalk the pheasant hunter in that field in southern South Dakota, near Lake Andes? Did someone else involved in a business deal gone wrong decide that the death penalty should be invoked, vigilante style? Or was it, indeed, a hunting accident?
The Sioux. Meanwhile, and this is starting to sound like Agatha Christie doing a Western, there is another possible angle. On the same land where Richard Benda was killed his brother-in-law's brother has been accused of shooting five of his neighbor's horses, killing four of them.
The shooter is said to be Ray Johanneson, older brother to Jim; he was in court on October 22, at the Charles Mix County Courthouse (near Yanktown, SD), in connection with his upcoming trial for killing the horses, that he said were damaging his crops. The horses belong to Sioux farmer neighbors of his, according to the Mitchell (SD) Daily Republic.
Did a horse owner, seeking revenge, and not trusting the court to bring justice, mistake Benda for one of his in-laws?
Perhaps the police investigation will shed some light on some or all of these questions.
Maybe the EB-5 program, already known to be dubious public policy and the source of many bad investments, can be hazardous to your physical health as well.