The leader of Global Aquaponics, Tobias Ritesman, appeared in federal court Wednesday afternoon.
KELOLAND Investigates first broke the news that the fish and vegetable farm proposed near Brookings was never built as promised in our reports last summer.
Part 1: Fishing For Answers
Part 2: Fishing For Answers
A federal grand jury indicted Ritesman on 18 counts of devising a scheme to defraud investors late Wednesday afternoon.
Tim Burns of Brookings faces the same charges. Burns is a long-time Brookings real estate developer and businessman. For a period of time, he was the CEO of Global Aquaponics.
We first showed you the ground breaking of the proposed Global Aquaponics facility back in June of 2016. Many local and state leaders were on hand at the site just south of Brookings, including Attorney General Marty Jackley. Then we continued to pay regular visits to the land over the course of the year, where we discovered nothing was happening.
During that time we also found out that the backgrounds of Ritesman and at least one of his other associates were fake. We also found they were not working with South Dakota State University on the project as they claimed.
We even tracked down the real "Global Aquaponics" company in Texas, who had never heard of the South Dakota project going by the same name.
We tried to question Ritesman as he left the federal courthouse in Sioux Falls after hearing the fraud charges against him.
Don Jorgensen: Tobias, are you going to pay back investors?
Unidentified man: No comment, no comment.
Jorgensen: Excuse me. I have a right to walk on the sidewalk.
Unidentified man: Don't take any pictures of my car.
You'll remember, we asked Ritesman how much money he had raised for the proposed $8 million facility in June 2016.
Kennecke: Have you gotten all those investors? Have you gotten $2 million?
Ritesman: Oh yeah. We wanted to get as many local people involved in some of our projects and stuff like that.
According to court papers, Ritesman and Burns had not purchased the land like they told investors. KELOLAND Investigates reported that nearly a year after the groundbreaking, former Board of Regents president and state legislator Dean Krogman stepped in and traded a twin home he owned for the land.
Court papers say the Global Aquaponics claimed to investors it had nearly $6 million on hand when it did not.
Ritesman and Burns are also accused of telling investors they had purchased equipment for the facility when they had not and that they had obtained a $3.7 million bond for the facility when they hadn't.
Burns and Ritesman are accused of taking nearly $300,000 from investors and using it for their own benefit. If found guilty, they could each spend 20 years in prison on each count and there are 18 of them.
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