FARGO — South Dakota billionaire and philanthropist T. Denny Sanford has been under investigation within the past year for possibly possessing child pornography, according to multiple published reports Friday night.
Sanford, namesake to the nation's largest rural nonprofit health care system, has not been charged with any crimes. Thus far, few details have been made public about the circumstances that led to the investigation.
ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power, cited four anonymous sources as part of their report and noted that investigators with the South Dakota attorney general's Division of Criminal Investigation obtained a search warrant and ultimately referred the case to the U.S. Department of Justice for further investigation.
An electronic device owned by Sanford was apparently at the center of the investigation.
The South Dakota attorney general's chief of staff, Timothy Bormann, told ProPublica that the office's policy is to neither confirm or deny the existence or details of any criminal investigation. A Justice Department spokesperson didn't immediately return a call to ProPublica, the news organization said.
The Argus Leader newspaper, based in Sioux Falls where Sanford Health also has headquarters, reported Friday evening that the investigation also expanded to Arizona and California, where Sanford has homes.
Marty Jackley, a former South Dakota attorney general who is Sanford's personal lawyer, told The Forum on Saturday that "although we know very little about any state or federal inquiry relating to Mr. Sanford, we do know those authorities responsible for investigating allegations obviously did not find information or evidence that supported or resulted in any criminal charges."
Jackley said that would be his only statement and added it may be the only time he'll comment on the situation.
On Saturday afternoon, the Sanford Health organization weighed in with a statement.
"We are deeply concerned about these allegations and take this matter seriously," said Micah Aberson, executive vice president of the organization. "The allegation does not involve our health system and we have not been contacted by law enforcement.
"Our focus remains on our patients, residents and the communities we serve," Aberson said.
Sanford, 84, was named one of the country's top 10 philanthropists in 2019 and is known for his contributions to children's charities. He also has ties with influential politicians and Republican leaders.
Over the years, Sanford has given almost $1 billion to Sanford Health, among other causes. He is also the founder and owner of First Premier Bank, and the richest man in South Dakota with an estimated worth of $1.6 billion. He has pledged to give away all of his money by the time he dies.
Sanford also was a major contributor and has his name on the Sioux Falls major entertainment center, the Denny Sanford Premier Center.
One of his most recent gifts was just a few weeks ago in early August — $12.5 million to the University of South Dakota Law School in the name of David Knudson, a lawyer and friend of Sanford's.
The Sanford Health network includes 44 hospitals, 1,400 physicians and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and nine countries.
The network includes the newly built 285-bed Sanford Medical Center in south Fargo, and its headquarters and 545-bed Sanford USD Medical Center in Sioux Falls.