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Published February 14, 2014, 11:04 AM

Audit: Benda helped increase beef plant grant

Rich Benda, while serving as director of the Department of Tourism and State Development, on Dec. 23, 2010, amended two Future Fund grants for Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen, S.D., according to the Department of Legislative Audit report.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

A former economic development official in South Dakota helped his future employer while still holding public office, according to a state audit released Feb. 13.

Rich Benda, while serving as director of the Department of Tourism and State Development, on Dec. 23, 2010, amended two Future Fund grants for Northern Beef Packers in Aberdeen, S.D., according to the Department of Legislative Audit report.

Previously, on Dec. 2, 2010, Benda discussed a draft employment contract with SDRC, which recruited investors for Northern beef, according to the report.

A policy should have been in place that would have required Benda “to disclose his future employment plans and remove himself from involvement in subsequent matters relating to NBP,” the report said.

The audit didn’t make a determination on a $1 million state grant for construction costs of the plant, $550,000 of which “may have been diverted from its intended purpose,” according to the report.

The use of the money is “not within the scope of our audit,” according to the report.

An investigation by South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley late last year found that the $550,000 was used to pay EB-5 immigration loan monitor feeds.

Benda was found dead of a shotgun wound on Oct. 22, 2013. His death was ruled a suicide.

Northern Beef Packers opened in October 2012, but declared bankruptcy in July 2013. Its main creditor, California-based White Oak Global Advisors, bought the company late last year.

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