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Child Porn Probe of Billionaire Businessman Denny Sanford Continues at State and Federal Level, Court Records Show

12 Jan 2022

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Federal and state authorities are still actively investigating billionaire T. Denny Sanford for possession of child pornography, according to new court records.

In 2020, ProPublica first reported that South Dakota authorities had started investigating the state’s richest man and had referred the matter to the U.S. Department of Justice. But it was not clear what the DOJ did with the referral or whether state investigators were still pursuing the case.

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Now, in a new affidavit, the special agent in charge of the case for South Dakota’s Division of Criminal Investigation, Jeff Kollars, said that the probe remains open and that it included briefings as recently as Dec. 16 with “at least one jurisdiction.”

The affidavit does not specify the other jurisdiction. But in a separate filing on Monday, South Dakota Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg confirmed that both state and federal probes are active. “The investigation by state and federal authorities is ongoing,” Ravnsborg said in the court filing.

Sanford’s attorney did not respond to a request seeking comment. A spokesperson for the DOJ declined to comment.

The investigation of Sanford started because of a tip from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, the court records show. The center is a private nonprofit that operates a tip line for people and companies to report images of suspected child sex trafficking and abuse. The organization’s staff reviews the tips and refers them to law enforcement. A spokesperson for the organization declined to comment.

Investigators obtained five search warrants in 2019 and 2020 for Sanford’s email, phone and internet data. The documents do not specify what, if anything, investigators found in the searches.

ProPublica won access to the search warrants after more than a year of litigation that reached the state’s highest court. Sanford unsuccessfully asked the courts to conceal the search warrants, which are supposed to be publicly accessible under state law, and to block ProPublica’s reporting.

The warrants name Sanford “in the matter of possession and distribution of child pornography” and indicate that investigators and a judge concluded there was probable cause to believe that the data would contain evidence of a crime. The affidavits describing the basis for probable cause were not disclosed. The new court records were filed in response to ProPublica’s request to unseal the affidavits.

Sanford’s attorney, Marty Jackley, has previously declined to address Sanford’s conduct except to say the billionaire hasn’t been charged. In his latest filing, though, Jackley offered a new explanation: that Sanford’s email account was hacked and being used by someone else. The filing included examples of messages typical of email scams asking contacts to send money overseas, spanning 2016 to 2019. The filing described the emails as “exonerating evidence.”

Jackley was the state’s previous attorney general and is currently running for the office again. Jackley did not comment on how he would handle the case if he were to win the election for attorney general.

Sanford, 86, made his fortune from First Premier Bank and Premier Bankcard, a major issuer of high-interest credit cards for high-risk borrowers. He is one of the country’s biggest philanthropists, focusing on children’s organizations.

After ProPublica reported the existence of the child pornography investigation in 2020, some beneficiaries of Sanford’s charity initally distanced themselves. Others did not. South Dakota’s major hospital system still bears his name and accepted more than $650 million from him in 2021. The state’s governor, Kristi Noem, also accepted $100 million in scholarship funds from Sanford and his companies in 2021.

Do you have information about the Denny Sanford case that should be public? Contact Isaac Arnsdorf at isaac@propublica.org or 203-464-1409.


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This content was originally published by Propublica. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By Propublica

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