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ProPublica Files Motion to Unseal Search Warrant Affidavits in Child Porn Probe of South Dakota Billionaire

ProPublica revealed last year that billionaire T. Denny Sanford, a subprime credit card magnate and major philanthropist to children’s charities, was investigated for possible possession of child pornography. After a yearlong battle to obtain documents about the investigation, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in October in favor of granting ProPublica access to search warrants for email and phone data, confirming significant details about the probe. The nonprofit newsroom and The Argus Leader, a leading South Dakota paper, have now followed this major victory by filing a motion to unseal the search warrants’ supporting affidavits.

The affidavits will show what evidence investigators relied on to obtain search warrants from the court. This information would help the public better assess the government’s decision to seek the search warrants, the court’s decision to issue them and why law enforcement was interested in Sanford. It’s not clear if the investigation is still ongoing. No criminal charges have been filed against the billionaire.

ProPublica and the Argus Leaders’ motion, filed in South Dakota state court on Dec. 9, cited the profound public interest in understanding how the state’s richest man attracted the attention of law enforcement. The media organizations urged the court to immediately unseal the search warrant affidavits under the First Amendment and South Dakota law.

“The public and the press have a vital interest in seeing these materials, which should provide information about why the search warrants were issued in the first place,” ProPublica General Counsel Jeremy Kutner said. “Rather than allow the basis for the court’s decision to continue to be kept secret, we are calling for transparency.”

Sanford controls First Premier Bank, a major issuer of high-interest credit cards for people who have poor credit. Worth an estimated $1.6 billion, he is a major donor to Republican causes and the state’s political figures, and is a prolific supporter of children’s organizations and other charitable causes, including a major hospital system based in South Dakota that bears his name.

ProPublica is represented by Jeff Beck of Beck Law, Prof. LLC in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Argus Leader is represented by Jon Arneson in Sioux Falls.

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