Bollen Pleads Guilty to One Felony Count, Gets $2K Fine, 2 Years Probation, Suspended Imposition of Sentence

Plus: Jackley’s Post-Plea Press Conference!

Joop Bollen pled guilty this morning to one of five felony charges of mishandling funds related to his administration of South Dakota’s EB-5 program. Judge Portra gave Bollen a suspended imposition of sentence with two years of probation, a $2,000 fine, $104 in court costs.

Joop Bollen leaves the Brown County Courthouse following his guilty plea and sentencing. Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2017.02.01.
Joop Bollen (in green sweater) leaves the Brown County Courthouse following his guilty plea and sentencing. Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2017.02.01.

Six days before Bollen’s scheduled trial, Attorney General Marty Jackley appeared in the Brown County courtroom of Judge Tony Portra to read a plea agreement freshly signed by the state and Bollen. In the plea agreement, Bollen admits that, on February 17, 2012, he took $300,000 from a fund that his corporation SDRC Inc. was supposed to hold to indemnify the state in case of lawsuits arising from the EB-5 visa investment program. Bollen purchased Tax Increment Finance bonds on Northern Beef Packers, the beef plant that EB-5 investment helped build on the south edge of Aberdeen. By taking that money, Bollen violated SDCL 44-1-12, a Class 6 felony. Judge Portra asked Bollen if he agreed the Attorney General’s statement; Bollen answered, “Yes, Your Honor.”

Under the plea agreement, the state dropped the other four charges, which included $944,000 in unauthorized withdrawals from funds Bollen/SDRC Inc. were supposed to hold for the state, money that Bollen allegedly converted to personal use. Those other funds and uses were not mentioned in today’s hearing. The state also agreed not to pursue any further charges against Bollen on this matter, to remain silent on sentencing, and not to use this plea against Bollen in pending civil litigation. In addition to his plea today, Bollen agrees to testify fully future proceedings.

Judge Portra asked Bollen a series of questions about his understanding of the plea agreement and his rights. Bollen answered, subdued but sure, “Yes, Your Honor… I do… I have… I am.” Judge Portra asked if Bollen had received any other promises to secure his plea. After a brief querying glance at his attorney, Reed Rasmussen, Bollen said, “No, sir.” Any force, need more time—“No… No, Your Honor.”

What is your plea—“Guilty.”

The defense waived Bollen’s right to pre-sentencing hearing and asked the court to render sentence immediately. Judge Portra asked the state for comment. Attorney General Jackley reiterated the position stated in the plea agreement, that the state would leave sentencing to the court. A.G. Jackley did note that the Legislature has dictated, per the 2013 criminal justice reform bill, that defendants in Class 6 felony cases like this should receive probation, not prison, and that he knew of no aggravating factors to override that presumption of probation. A.G. Jackley also noted that the defendant’s plea had averted the need for a trial.

Rasmussen acknowledged that Bollen had taken the $300,000 and, perhaps extraneously to the charge at hand, had violated his contract with the state to have $1,000,000 in that indemnification fund by the end of December 2011. Still, Rasmussen said, Bollen returned the $300,000 to the bank account within four days of the illegal withdrawal. The only victim of the crime was the state, and no money (including $2.5 million in state money still held in SDRC Inc. accounts) is missing.

Rasmussen recited the benefits of the EB-5 program that Bollen ran for the state: $400 million in foreign investment brought to South Dakota, creating over 5,000 jobs (a variation of the disputed claims former Governor, then candidate, now Senator Mike Rounds made during the 2014 campaign to defend his approval of Bollen’s operation of EB-5 in South Dakota).

What passes for a media scrum in Brown County, as reporters await Attorney General Marty Jackley and defendant Joop Bollen. Brown County Courthouse, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2017.02.01.
Media scum—er, scrum—in Brown County, as reporters await Attorney General Marty Jackley and defendant Joop Bollen. Brown County Courthouse, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2017.02.01.

Rasmussen said Bollen has already been punished with three years of the media dragging his name through the mud. “I don’t do blogs or Facebook or whatever,” said Rasmussen, but he has heard there are some terrible things out there.

Given Bollen’s lack of criminal record and good conduct since his arrest (he traveled to Europe while on bond), Rasmussen asked for suspended imposition of sentence with little or no probation.

Asked by Judge Portra if he wished to address the court, Bollen said, “I’m fine, thank you.”

Judge Portra said he found Bollen “eligible and a good candidate” for suspended imposition of sentence. Judge Portra said he has given suspended imposition to offenders with “much lesser prospects for rehabilitation.”

Alluding to the defense’s statement about media mud-dragging, Judge Portra said he was choosing his sentence in part to make clear that this case is “far less juicy and salacious” than is otherwise believed. “Benda” and “EB-5” get a lot of press, said Judge Portra, but this crime and this plea are not about Benda or EB-5.

Judge Portra also noted this morning’s local headline story that the Brown County Jail, built for 48 inmates, in holding 72.

Judge Portra thus declared jail not appropriate. Bollen could have faced two years in prison and a $4,000 fine. Instead, Bollen pays $2,104 and walks home mostly free. Judge Portra imposed two years probation, but without any restriction on drinking alcohol. Judge Portra imposed no travel restriction but noted that Bollen will need to check with the probation officer about limits on travel that may be imposed by the interstate compact on probation rules that South Dakota observes.

Court adjourned. Bollen left, making no comment to the press (even though I asked nicely).

*     *     *

Attorney General Marty Jackley addresses reporters following Joop Bollen's guilty plea, Brown County Courthouse, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2017.02.01.
Heidelberger, one more question, and it’s the back my hand…. Attorney General Marty Jackley addresses reporters following Joop Bollen’s guilty plea, Brown County Courthouse, Aberdeen, South Dakota, 2017.02.01.

Attorney General Marty Jackley held a press conference following the hearing (see full video from Aberdeen American News on Facebook). One theme that emerged from his statements to the assembled journalists was that A.G. Jackley views today’s plea deal as an achievement distinguishing his office from federla investigators. He noted that the Department of Justice, FBI, and U.S. Attorney had all failed to find anything in South Dakota’s EB-5 program on which to bring charges. Only his office has brought pursued indictments against EB-5 players—first Richard Benda in 2013, an arrest and prosecution averted by Benda’s untimely death; and now Bollen. Jackley said that contrast shows that the feds have failed to exercise due oversight over EB-5 and that it is up to state authorities to fill the gap with measures like his proposed conflict-of-interest measure, Senate Bill 27 (which would not appear to pertain to the activities for which he prosecuted Bollen, but hey, Jackley is also campaigning on a couple of fronts, so cut him some slack).

A.G. Jackley used this assertion of the superior performance of his office over the feds to avoid my question about whether this investigation has led him to findings or actions against any accomplices, like Bollen’s Georgia business partner Pyush Patel. A.G. Jackley gave no indication that other participants in Bollen’s mishandling of funds have been identified or investigated.

The Attorney General did not mention the oversight USCIS exercised by revoking South Dakota’s authorization to participate in the EB-5 program. When I asked whether today’s plea would help the state make the case to USCIS to reinstate South Dakota’s EB-5 status, A.G. Jackley said that’s a question for the Governor and his Office of Economic Development. He did acknowledge the positive economic impact EB-5 had on several communities.

I asked why the state had chosen to leave the indemnification funds in private accounts that an operator like Bollen could so easily access. A.G. Jackley said he did not advise the Governor’s Office of Economic Development on the December 2009 contract it signed with Bollen to run EB-5 privately and create the indemnification funds. He said such funds are a “common legal practice” and that the state doesn’t “own” the money but has a security interest in it, but he did not draft these indemnification funds.

I asked whether other private entities are holding indemnification funds for the state and whether the discovery of Bollen’s mishandling of secured funds had prompted a review of other funds to make sure no one else was turning such funds into personal ATMs. A.G. Jackley mentioned no other such investigations and said that question should go to the Legislature and the Governor.

I asked A.G. Jackley if the requirement that Bollen “cooperate and testify truthfully” differs at all from the obligation an un-pled Bollen would have had to respond to a subpoena and testify in EB-5 matters. A.G. Jackley said “If there are any future proceedings” (again, no indication of anything in the pipeline), and if Bollen failed to testify truthfully, that action could revoke the plea agreement and subject Bollen to trial. But playing nice, A.G. Jackley said he anticipates no problems with Bollen’s complying with the agreement he signed.


36 Responses to Bollen Pleads Guilty to One Felony Count, Gets $2K Fine, 2 Years Probation, Suspended Imposition of Sentence

  1. mike from iowa

    Is there a secret handshake a corrupt gubmint official must give to receive a prison sentence in South Dakota? Is there an official charge against a corrupt gubmint official that can’t/won’t be plea bargained to failure to use turn signal slap on the wrist?

    No damn wonder the state is rampant with corruption. The party of personal responsibility is a freaking joke.

    Somewhere, someone is saying I lived through the EB-5 scandal and all I got was lousy millions.

  2. David Newquist

    “The benefit of controlling a modern state is less the power to persecute the innocent, more the power to protect the guilty.”

    https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/how-to-build-an-autocracy/513872/

  3. And this guy wants to be Governor.

  4. Donald Pay

    This is how organized crime works in SD. Joop takes a felony conviction for the real perps (Rounds etc al.). He never implicates the crime boss. He gets a wrist slap sentence. Same thing as the sewage ash scam. The real crooks got elected governor.

  5. A brief reminder of the facts and timeline of the EB-5 scandal is in order.

    January 2008: State employee Joop Bollen, who was not authorized to sign contracts on behalf of the state, formed his own private company, SDRC, Inc. on 1/3/2008 – signing a contract with his private company on behalf of the state on 1/15/2008 privatizing EB-5 fees for himself and leaving the state with the crumbs. The Joopster continued working as a state employee until 12/21/09. The Attorney General’s Office (under Larry Long, with Marty Jackley taking over 9/4/2009) did nothing about Bollen’s illicitly signed contract or Bollen’s conflict of interest as a state employee having the most lucrative private contract in history with the state. As Pat Duffy said, Joopster was a “faithless employee.”

    August 2008: Darley International had sued the SDIBI – a Board of Regents owned entity (thus state owned entity) that employed the Joopster – for breach of contract. The Joopster kept the lawsuit secret from his employer – the state – and filed an answer to the lawsuit himself, although he’s not a lawyer.

    February 2009: The state found out about the Darley lawsuit, and the Joopster’s concealing of the lawsuit, and the Joopster’s unauthorized practice of law, and took no action against the Joopster. He was not fired, and continued working for the state until December 21, 2009.

    September 4, 2009: Marty Jackley is sworn in as Attorney General.

    December 22, 2009: One day after resigning his position with Northern State University, the Joopster on behalf of his company SDRC, Inc. signed a contract with Richard Benda on behalf of GOED (Governor’s Office of Economic Development) to complete his takeover of the EB-5 program and all of the fees that go along with it. The state actually paid the Joopster to take tens of millions of dollars of EB-5 investor fees away from the taxpayers of SD. The Joopster took EB-5 records belonging to his employer Northern State and as far as we know those records remain unaccounted for today.

    So despite his self-dealing and conflict of interest as a state employee, despite his getting the state sued, despite his unauthorized practice of law, the Joopster – this “faithless employee” of South Dakota, as Pat Duffy has described him, has never been held accountable for anything. The case Marty Jackley brought is unrelated to all of these things.

  6. Ror,

    Interesting but is anything you describe even a felony? (Not a lawyer so just asking)

  7. You have got to be kidding, right Troy?

  8. Porter Lansing

    Every interaction I’ve had with the AG has resulted in the same deflection of responsibility, knowledge and interest. Any team need a new goalie? (PS … what’s the second largest group of hills in South Dakota. The lumps under the government’s carpet where the truth is hidden.)

  9. When will the State of South Dakota wake up and treat things the right way. If you had done this you would sit in jail and so would everyone else. You don’t move money and pay it back to cover your “butt”. This political game playing is becoming just plain crooked and top players are just smiling and thinking “we did it again”. Same to the legislators on the ethics vote. Demoralizing the people of South Dakota and just don’t care. Getting so tired of this – why aren’t others tired of it. Change it someone please.

  10. Bob Newland

    He wore jeans and a sweater to his sentencing? Seriously? That’s a statement in itself.

  11. Roger Cornelius

    Cory,
    Thanks for making it to court today, I thought you weren’t going to make it.

    It would be a skit for SNL to follow the money on EB-5 and the packing plant.

    Having a look at Judge Portra and Marty Jackley’s checkbooks and savings accounts would be fun too.

    Cory is partially to blame for this ridiculous sentence by posting stories and dragging Joop name through the mud. I assume they were referring to Cory since no other blog covered this scandal with the intensity Cory did.

  12. It’s the spiffiest I’ve seen him look in court yet.

  13. It will make a hellofva book and movie.
    My guess is that the AG’s kids must get away with murder because the AG appears incapable of enforcing any minimal standard of public behavior.

  14. Joop is correct in not having any respect for the law in South Dakota, hell he purchased it. I thought he might show up in flip flops, swirling a fresh margarita in his hand while smoking a Cubano. We all should take note and do the same.

  15. Mike Boswell

    Yawn Bob and Cory couldn’t prove squat beyond Joop and Benda. You all crying in your beers. Corruption on the brain and no hard proof to back it up.

  16. I don’t know why you’re serving your cheese and whine, Mike. I think I served some serious meat and potatoes, with the best coverage of today’s plea hearing, sentencing, and A.G.’s press conference anywhere in South Dakota media. Do you see any factual problems with my original report?

  17. You ask the wrong question, Troy. The questions you should be asking are:

    Who made the decision not to fire the Joopster, a faithless state employee, for signing a contract with his own company that transferred a state revenue stream worth millions to the Joopster?

    Who protected the Joopster when he got the state sued, concealed that fact from the Attorney General’s Office, and purported to file legal pleadings on the state’s behalf?

    After all of this, why was the Joopster allowed to sign another contract with the state completely privatizing the profits from the State’s regional center?

    And when the Joopster made off with all of the records belonging to his employer Northern State U, who told AG Jackley to do nothing about that? Remember, Jackley announced a long time ago when Benda turned up deceased that there was nothing else for the state to do – it’s all up to the feds.

    There must have been somebody with a lot of authority in the Rounds administration protecting faithless servant Joopster. Cabinet Secretary Benda doesn’t overrule the elected and p****ed off AG. (You should read Larry Long’s affidavit about the Joopster and his buddies representing the state in court without his permission). Had to be someone higher than Benda protecting the Joopster. And why was he protected? Nobody could do what he did and be rewarded with a lucrative contract instead of fired unless he was protected. That’s obvious, but why was he protected?

    Could that be why Larry Long gave up his AG seat for a judgeship – because he didn’t like the stench in the executive branch and the fact the Joopster wasn’t fired? Marty Jackley was new on the job, appointed by Mike Rounds. It’s understandable why he didn’t do something about the Joopster back then. He & Tidemann wanted to make nice. This idea that he did something about the EB-5 scandal when nobody else did is ludicrous. He didn’t do anything about it.

    There are tens of millions in EB-5 fees unaccounted for. If anyone with law enforcement investigatory powers decided to follow the money there would be indictments.

  18. Donald Pay

    I found this definition of “organized crime:”

    The FBI defines organized crime as any group having some manner of a formalized structure and whose primary objective is to obtain money through illegal activities. Such groups maintain their position through the use of actual or threatened violence, corrupt public officials, graft, or extortion, and generally have a significant impact on the people in their locales, region, or the country as a whole.

    This is in keeping with reading we did during the administration of George Mickelson, when we were uncovering the sewage ash scam. You will notice the requirement of a formalized structure and the fact that such groups “maintain their position through the use of “…corrupt public officials, graft….” I would add another means by organized criminals operate in South Dakota, “inadequate laws and/or application of rules and laws by incompetent officials.” It is well known in law enforcement that organized crime cannot gain hold and flourish without public officials who are letting it happen. This slap on the wrist to the head of a criminal organization is par for the course. Same thing happened in the sewage ash scam.

    The Legislature and successive Governors of the State of South Dakota have long been a part of the working of a succession of criminal enterprises that have done immense damage to South Dakota citizens. The fact that the Legislative and Gubernatorial branches of this criminal enterprise are fighting so hard to maintain its way of operating is not surprising to me. They have to propagate the next criminal enterprise, which, I suspect, involves radioactive waste.

  19. Roger C—oh my! I hadn’t fully considered that possibility. I gave Bollen heck on the blog… Bollen’s lawyer cries “punishment!”, judge buys it, lightens the sentence… did I just keep Joop out of jail?

    Or, from the glass-half-full perspective, did I actually hold Joop accountable more than Jackley did?

  20. Mike Boswell

    No just an observation about Mr Mercer and yourself. EB5 and Gear Up ended up with a small group that did all the illegal activity and the two of you and others tried to make it out to be more. Attempted to make it an issue in 2014 and it fell flat. It is still falling flat.

  21. Roger Cornelius

    Did anyone here really expect a more severe sentence for Bollen? As I recall a number of predictions made here were right on target.
    Jackley’s lame prosecution of this case and Judge Portra’s slap on the wrist are all part of the ongoing corruption of this state.
    As Rors has repeatedly stated the state doesn’t seem the least bit concerned about the millions of dollars they let Bollen walk away with.
    They are all probably in Judge Portra’s chambers toasting themselves with pricey champagne.

  22. Porter Lansing

    Great meat and potatoes.

  23. Roger Cornelius

    I just had a fun journey over to the Power’s Dump Site, (Sorry Cory, I just couldn’t help myself).
    The republicans are at each others throats over Marty’s plea agreement with Bollen.
    Noem is being called a troll for most of the negative comments about Marty.
    It was way fun.

  24. Mike Boswell

    NO Roger they were complaining about Noem Trolls. The Jackley deal is a good one Joop accepts a felony charge and agrees to testify if more charges are brought up. Joop at the most would have served 5 years.

  25. mike from iowa

    The Jackley deal is a good one – for Bollen and the corrupt cronys in Pierre who can probably breathe bigly again knowing this crime was whitewashed thanks to Mike Trollwell.

  26. Kathy Tyler

    Oh, Mr. Boswell, you are so wrong. You need to review the evidence provided by Cory, Dave, Bob, and others. The evidence is there; the courage to convict was not.

  27. barry freed

    See? No corruption.

  28. barry freed

    Gootcha! ( the extra “o” is for how it’s pronounced in Norway)

    The System, with new faces all the time, has been groomed for 200 years and they have it down pretty good.

    That is until one considers they are up against technology. Ignored on this “Liberal” website are the calls to put all Government purchase and sales records on the Internet. The NSA has recorded every one of their calls, so how does one obtain a search warrant to listen to the phone recordings for which we pay? Because of Technology, the average Trump lie lasts hours at the most, none a full day.

  29. barry freed

    So they are all crooks, and even if some aren’t, they know of crimes and not reporting a Felony is a Felony. Photos of RC’s new Superintendent show her with a sick look even though she’s smiling, as if she is thinking: ” What the hell kind of corrupt mess did I sign up for?”. Okay….

    How about an Initiated Measure that grants immunity to public servants and employees for past crimes if they come 100% clean? No charges for acts before the cut-off date, but from that day on, they will see fines and or jail time.

  30. Kathy Tyler

    Mr. Boswell, you are wrong. Please read or re-read the evidence, documents posted by Bob, Dave, and Cory during the EB-5 battle. The proof was there; ‘they’ didn’t want to believe it. The acceptance of a plea bargain is self-protection at its finest.

  31. Roger Cornelius

    No Mike Boswell, you were are wrong. It seemed that an equal number of commenters were either calling Noem a troll or that her supporters were trolls.
    Damn that was a good deal for Joop, good for Joop, good for Jackley, and good Judge Portra.
    A really bad deal for South Dakotans that lost millions of dollars in this scheme.
    But like republicans are fond of saying, there is no corruption in South Dakota.

  32. The picture of a smiling Joop on the front page of the Aberdeen paper says it all! Democrats, save this picture for the next campaign, and hammer complicit Republican opponents with it constantly. Everybody I have seen today is outraged by the message that picture conveys to the public, like the cat that caught the canary.

  33. Roger: Noem trolls are trying to turn the EB-5 deal into something with which to whack Jackley? Hmmm… so is Noem going to turn up the heat on EB-5, and is Boswell going to have to turn his heat on her?

  34. owen reitzel

    Cory, Noem tweeted about death taxes AGAIN!
    I wish they’d repeal it just to shut her up

  35. marvin kammerer

    one of the worst omissions of justice & collusions of justice i have ever seen.a tossup between the blessing of joop boolins criminal activities! south dakota ratings of criminal activities will again get worse!

  36. the lowly independent

    i won’t name names, but i almost should… but i was told by a high ranking elected South Dakota official that, and I quote “Well, it was a white collar crime, it isn’t like a guy with a mask and a gun walking into a casino, you know.” … i found this shocking…