No state charge for billionaire Sanford in child porn probe

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SIOUX, S.D. — The South Dakota attorney general’s office has declined to file charges against billionaire T. Denny Sanford following an investigation into possible possession of child pornography, saying it found no “prosecutable offenses” within the state’s jurisdiction, according to a court document filed Friday.

Sanford is a banker who has become a philanthropist and is the state’s most wealthy man. He has donated billions of dollars to charities, universities, and hospitals. After his accounts were flagged from a technology company, South Dakota investigators in began to search his email account and his cellular and internet service providers for child pornography.

The attorney general’s office said in Friday’s court filing that the “South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation has completed its investigation … and has determined that there are no prosecutable offenses within the jurisdiction of the State of South Dakota.”

The attorney general’s office had no comment beyond the court filing.

“Mr. Sanford is grateful for the SD Attorney General’s office’s public acknowledgment that the DCI has completed its investigation and found no prosecutable offense,” Marty Jackley, Sanford’s attorney, stated via text.

South Dakota Attorney-General Jason Ravnsborg had previously requested federal law enforcement to be involved. In January, a state filing stated that both federal and state investigations were ongoing at the time. When asked Friday by the Department of Justice if a federal probe is ongoing, they declined to comment.

Ravnsborg has been placed on leave in anticipation of his June trial on impeachment charges relating to his conduct in striking and killing a pedestrian in 2020..

Law enforcement briefed the public on the matter last year. They learned that Sanford’s electronic devices were brought to their attention by a technology company that reported that child pornography was being sent, received, or downloaded from his device. The person spoke under anonymity as he was not permitted to speak publicly about the case.

The investigation was first reported by ProPublica, the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. Both news outlets requested access to the affidavits required for search warrants. Jackley stated that the investigation revealed that the client’s email accounts had been hacked as part of arguments in state court regarding the release of the documents.

The search warrant affidavits weren’t made public as of Friday evening. Judge James Power stated to the Argus Leader that he expected to release the documents on Tuesday. However, the newspaper reported that Stacy Hegge, Sanford’s attorney, had attempted to delay the unsealing.

The 86-year-old Sanford is worth an estimated $3.4 billion. As the founder of First Premier Bank in South Dakota (known for issuing high-interest credit card to people with poor credit), he made a fortune.

Sanford stated to The Associated Press in 2016, that he wanted to make a positive difference in the lives of children after his difficult childhood in St. Paul. When he was four years old, his mother died from breast cancer. By the age of eight, Sanford was employed in his father’s clothing distribution business. He lived with his two siblings in a small apartment.

“You only have so many cars, so make sure you use it in a way that can help people’s lives,” Sanford stated in 2016. His financial wealth has not slowed down since the public investigation into Sanford was made public. In January, he donated $50 millions to a Dakota State University cybersecurity laboratory, while Sanford Health, the hospital that bears his name received more $650million in donations last year.

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Forliti reported from Minneapolis.

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