Rounds says he didn’t approve $600K state aid for beef plant

Farm Forum

SIOUX FALLS (AP) — Former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds says he did not approve $600,000 in state aid for an Aberdeen beef plant authorized by a Cabinet secretary in the final days of Rounds’ administration — or even know about it.

Secretary of Tourism and State Development Richard Benda approved the money for Northern Beef Packers shortly before leaving office to work for an investor in the scandal-smeared beef plant. While on the state’s payroll, Benda hand-delivered the state aid check to the plant and was later accused of redirecting the money to pay his own salary. The aid was linked to an indictment being prepared against Benda when he killed himself last year.

Rounds, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, said earlier that he was aware of Benda’s future before he finished his term as governor in December 2010. However, his campaign spokesman, Mitch Krebs, said in an Oct. 22 email to the Argus Leader newspaper that Rounds “did not sign off on those requests” for more state aid for the beef plant.

The newspaper also reported that Rounds’ signature does not appear on the documents detailing the additional aid.

Rounds has been dogged by criticism of how he managed EB-5, a federal program that recruits wealthy immigrant investors for development projects in exchange for green cards. The program provided most of the funding for Northern Beef.

South Dakota was one of the pioneers in EB-5 financing, but the state program has been scrutinized in recent years. The FBI on Oct. 22 confirmed that its investigation is still active. South Dakota U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson has refused to confirm or deny an investigation.