Court unseals search warrant affidavits in Sanford probe
Apr 27, 2023, 5:33 PM
Investigators found that images of nude underage girls were transmitted on an email account they linked to billionaire philanthropist T. Denny Sanford, documents unsealed Thursday showed, but they were unable to prove who sent them or where that person was at the time.
Sanford’s attorney said in a statement that the newly released documents contain only allegations and “various individuals had documented access to the electronic devices at issue, including signs of hacking.”
Sanford, South Dakota’s richest man, was not charged after the state attorney general’s office said its investigation into child pornography allegations found no prosecutable offenses within its jurisdiction.
Sanford’s attorneys fought to keep the affidavits used to issue search warrants sealed, but the Sioux Falls Argus Leader and ProPublica argued they should be made public and the state Supreme Court ruled this month that they would be unsealed.
Sanford has given billions to hospitals, universities and charities, and the Sanford Health system is named for him. He made his fortune as the founder of First Premier Bank in South Dakota, which is known for issuing high-interest credit cards to peple with poor credit.
According to the affidavits, investigators searched Sanford’s email account and cell and internet service providers for evidence of possession of child pornography in 2019, after his accounts were flagged by a technology firm.
In the affidavits, a special agent with the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation wrote that several images of nude underage girls were sent via email over three days in May and June 2019. The age of the youngest was estimated at 8 to 12 years.
The account was believed to belong to Sanford because things like his driver’s license and a receipt from a hotel stay that included his name were sent from it.
Beyond questions his attorney raised about whether Sanford was always in possession of the phone and email account, the agent wrote in the affidavit that he was unable to determine the location of the individual who was accessing and using the email account on those days.
The agent noted that Sanford had homes in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Scottsdale, Arizona, and La Jolla, California. And he found that IP addresses in all of those areas were used to access the account.
Additionally, the agent noted, a user could access computers in those locations remotely.
“Not being able to pinpoint where the geolocation is may bring in the jurisdictional issues,” said John Baker, an assistant professor of criminal justice studies at St. Cloud State University.
The state attorney general’s office said in a statement Thursday that its investigative file was forwarded to the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota, which forwarded it to the Department of Justice. The file was also sent to authorities in Arizona and California.
“To date, none of those authorities have lodged charges against Sanford,” according to the statement provided to the Argus Leader.
The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to messages from The Associated Press seeking comment, nor did the U.S. attorney’s office in South Dakota.