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New USD Law Dean Had Hand in EB-5, Made Stuff Up to Help Rounds Hide Public Salaries

The gang's still here—Neil Fulton, 13th Dean, USD Law.
The gang’s still here—Neil Fulton, 13th Dean, USD Law.

The University of South Dakota put federal public defender Neil Fulton in charge of our law school last week. USD passed over two out-of-staters with law school dean experience to hire the actively practicing Miller native.

Senator Marion Michael Rounds is particularly thrilled about that choice, because Fulton was Rounds’s chief of staff during his second term as Governor, from September 2007 to June 2010.

2007 to 2010… wasn’t there a lot of exciting stuff going on with EB-5 then?

There sure was, and Neil Fulton appears to have been one of the players in that fine scandal. According to Rounds’s EB-5 czar Joop Bollen, Neil Fulton gave final review and approval to the contract that privatized Bollen’s state job and allowed Bollen to hawk EB-5 visas with more speed, less oversight, and more profit potential. Fulton, who told Bob Mercer that EB-5 “was not a plot,” downplayed his involvement with EB-5 privatization contract. Mike Rounds himself told Mercer, “I was not involved in the transactional details nor did I review the contract.”

As I reported in November 2014, those comments combine to form either inconsistency or clever parsing. Whichever is the case, Fulton was a key player a pivot point in South Dakota’s EB-5 scandal.

Just prior to formally joining the Rounds Administration, Fulton tried helping Rounds keep 14,000 other secrets—the paychecks of South Dakota state employees. In 2007, that Sioux Falls paper asked the Governor Rounds to release the salaries of state workers. Governor Rounds engaged Fulton, who was lawyering for well-connected Pierre law firm May Adam Gerdes and Thompson, to throw a baloney-wall at the press:

Gov. Mike Rounds would not respond to requests for interviews, and his office did not provide the requested list of workers and their pay. A private lawyer hired by the governor’s office, Neil Fulton, wrote a letter to the Argus Leader explaining why the state would not comply with the request.

“The State is bound by applicable statutes and administrative rules limiting what personnel information can be released and how,” Fulton wrote.

Basically, the state officials say that South Dakota law does not require that a list of employees, their job titles and salaries be kept. Therefore, they say, such information is not open to the public, because the open records law says only those records that are required by law to be kept are open to the public.

Fulton also refers to an administrative rule that limits how the state could make the information public [“Public Employee Salaries a Secret,” AP via Sioux City Journal, 2007.06.18].

A month later, Rounds and Fulton surrendered to the arguments of that Sioux Falls paper and this blog and the practices of the Secretary of State, Treasurer, Auditor, Commissioner of School and Public lands, and the Public Utilities Commission and admitted that such information really was open to the public. South Dakota’s open records law hadn’t changed in that month, neither had the administrative rule Fulton had cited for his to client; Fulton and Rounds simply had to abandon their legally untenable opacity. And a year later, we had the great and wonderful Open.SD.Gov, where we can keep track of the salaries of all of Kristi Noem’s nepotized kin.

Open state salary records—not if Fulton and Rounds had had their way! (screen cap of archived Open.SD.Gov public checkbook website, retrieved from Internet Archive Wayback Machine, 2019.03.17).
Open state salary records—not if Fulton and Rounds had had their way! (screen cap of archived Open.SD.Gov public checkbook website, retrieved from Internet Archive Wayback Machine, 2019.03.17).

And now Neil Fulton is in charge of the USD Law School, where he can keep an eye on all of our aspiring young jurists and make sure they learn how the game is played in South Dakota. Given his past flakking for Rounds, we can see why the GOP machine would be very pleased with Fulton’s ascent to this position of influence.


  1. Kal Lis 2019-03-17 08:59

    All this old news about EB-5 and open government misses the important point. Of all the candidates for the job Fulton was probably the one most likely to allow the USD Student Bar Association to continue to host Hawaii Day instead of changing the name to Beach Day.

    Gotta have priorities

  2. jerry 2019-03-17 09:44

    Looks like that Sioux Falls paper and Cory proved what a crap of an attorney Fulton is. Only makes sense then for him to be chosen at da dean. Here is a clip of him addressing a student.

    South Dakota has now jumped the shark yet again. We are getting good at it too. We had Heather Wilson in charge of the School of Mines, Cooter in charge of the motor pool and now this lackey to work with Cooter.

    Highway Patrol is now looking to hire Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane as its young gun.

  3. Liz 2019-03-17 12:19

    I would say this garbage is not a GOP problem in our state, it is the filthy political class who exempt themselves for right and wrong decisions. Good article.

  4. John 2019-03-17 14:25

    Solid reminder and reporting. I’m often unsure how such reporting gets out in this fascist banana republic state.

  5. Nick Nemec 2019-03-17 15:14

    Liz, “the filthy political class” in South Dakota is entirely populated by Republicans. Democrats are conspicuous only because of their complete absence among the group. It has been that way for over 40 years.

  6. mike from iowa 2019-03-17 17:25

    Any wingnut pols thanking socialist state, county and city snowplow operators and police officers for cleaning roads and making them safe after blizzard?

    Were it not for socialism South Dakota would just be frozen tundra minus caribou.

  7. grudznick 2019-03-17 17:25

    So young Mr. Fulton gets to move to Vermilion and live in a big house on a hill. What about all the other EB-5ists lurking about the governments? Will they, too, get to move to Vermilion?

  8. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-17 20:04

    I don’t know if Joop wants to move, Grudz. His thriving rental empire is all here in Aberdeen. Who could leave all this behind?

    Marty Jackley had his fingers in the EB-5 pie—what’s he going to do, lawyer in Rapid City or hang around in Pierre waiting for Noem to move on?

  9. leslie 2019-03-17 21:33

    Jackley is doing the same thing lobbyists do, and Republican FEDERAL public defenders (a considerable government paycheck with bennies), he is “lobbying state government now that he is out of office, for fat no-b id professional contracts I’d imagine. Neil just got a plush offer to administer rather than the crushing tespondbility of practicing indigent criminal law, albeit withsfequate staff. Sorry for incorrectable typos. Auto correct is off but latest keyboards are not for real text. Sigh

  10. leslie 2019-03-17 21:45

    Veineste, Watergate prosecutor, CBC: “chickens of nepotism and conflicts of interest coming home to roost”.

  11. Spike 2019-03-17 23:11

    Corys link to the applicants speaks for itself. The other two candidates hold interesting resumes and have the skills and background in law and education but apparently aren’t part of the good ol boy system. Interestingly, Christopher Behan may be out of state now (Southern Illinois University) but is a graduate of Brandon Valley High School.

    That EB-5 scandal is enough to make a person throw up. Unbelievable.

  12. Debbo 2019-03-17 23:33

    “the filthy SDGOP political class who exempt themselves for right and wrong decisions.”

    Fixed it for you Liz.

  13. 96Tears 2019-03-18 00:10

    The Rounds administration should have been the subject of a RICO investigation, but we all know that will never happen.

    Think of what EB-5 and GEAR UP have in common: Violent bloodshed.

    And without the bloodshed, none of us would have ever known that corruption this deep and wide had existed in plain view in our state. This might make a good book someday.

    Another thing they had in common was fast and loose accounting and oversight by people who should never have allowed the illegal actions to have occurred. At the top of that pile are Rounds and Fulton.

    My hunch, which is all any of us is allowed because nobody with authority had done an honest job of investigating, is this kind of pilfering must be common among those who are on the gravy train. As long as nobody else sprouts a conscience or becomes outraged and commits suicide or mass murder, the pilfering will continue until people of conscience and courage are elected in Pierre. And those who enable the corruption through their participation or their silence will be rewarded. Just a sad fact of life.

    So, what was in the Richard Benda alleged suicide report that even a quiet meeting between two reporters and then-Attorney General Marty Jackley to review the report had to be spiked?

    “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.”

  14. marvin kammerer 2019-03-18 09:56

    we should never forget or pass on EB-5 until all the guilty have been called out!that includes thune & his office aids who damn sure were aiding & abetting getting these EB-5 monies gathered up.responsible people would have followed these monies to see that they were spent according to the law.a federal grand jury should still be called, including thune,rounds & all their assistants & course our esteemed gov.some of them, including smiling mike could be looking out from inside the crowbar hotel!! for gods sake sd. needs to let the sun shine in!it is the only way to get back our respectability.

  15. mike from iowa 2019-03-18 11:16

    Whatever became of the clowns on the South Dakota Banking Commish that allowed an off shore, unregistered, fly by night outfit to become a legit bank for the purpose of a single exhorbitant interest rate loan to NBP. Was this even investigated?

  16. mike from iowa 2019-03-18 11:24

    Think of what EB-5 and GEAR UP have in common: Violent bloodshed.

    Don’t forget near total lack of OVERSIGHT and urgency to get the investigations rolling.

  17. grudznick 2019-03-18 20:21

    What about the Education Department people, Mr. H, who just skated by? Do they, too, get a cushy job in Vermilion?

  18. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-19 07:02

    Melmer already had his Vermillion gig. Schopp isn’t going to leave the ranch to come back for another post, is she?

  19. Robert Van Norman 2019-03-20 01:35


  20. Debbo 2019-03-20 14:08

    He sounds like the perfect guy to serve in Frantic Flaccid Fool’s deministration.

  21. Liz 2019-03-23 19:52

    FYI Mr. Nemec, many of those with the “R” label switched from a “D” only to get elected. It really is how one votes not the label that makes them who they are. I would not vote for some one just because of a label… no one should. Hence my point of the filthy political class.

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-03-23 22:23

    You know, I’ve heard that from many people, Liz, but can you point to any of these alleged Democrats wearing the R label to get elected who go to Pierre and vote for Democratic Party policies or principles?

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