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McFeely: If Sanford child porn probe uncovers something, then what?

It is time to begin laying out scenarios in case the ongoing child pornography probe into South Dakota billionaire T. Denny Sanford finds that the namesake of the region's largest healthcare system and numerous athletics facilities did the unspeakable.

Denny Sanford.jpg
T. Denny Sanford, the namesake benefactor for Sanford Health. Special to The Forum
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FARGO — The indelicate question is "What if they find something?" Hopefully there are dozens of powerful people in South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota pondering that possibility.

There likely aren't, because they love that open spigot of Sanford money. Better to stick your head in a snowdrift and hope it doesn't stop flowing.

Yes, it is time to begin laying out scenarios in case the ongoing child pornography probe into South Dakota billionaire T. Denny Sanford finds that the namesake of the region's largest healthcare system and numerous athletics facilities did the unspeakable.

If Sanford received, consumed, produced or distributed child porn, his name cannot be on hospitals, clinics, basketball arenas or sports complexes. It's just that simple.

Not on the massive Sanford hospital in West Fargo, not on the Sanford Roger Maris Cancer Center in downtown Fargo, not on the Sanford Health Athletic Complex in north Fargo, not on the 500-acre development in Sioux Falls called the Sanford Sports Complex. Not anywhere.

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And about that Sanford money and land the Fargo Park District is ready to vacuum up to build a 100-acre sports complex in the south part of town? Maybe you want to slow your roll on that partnership.

This might seem an obvious opinion, but when it comes to Sanford there's a willingness in these parts to smile, accept a check and construct a building or field or court. No questions asked. The money is easy and endless, and if its leads to a ribbon-cutting, it's easiest to keep your lips zipped. Millions of dollars in Sanford money are intertwined with local schools and universities.

When news of the investigation into Sanford first broke in 2020, some beneficiaries quietly backed away. Others, including the health system and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, did not.

The investigation into the 86-year-old Sanford continues, as ProPublica and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported recently . Federal and state authorities believe there is enough in Sanford's email, phone and internet data to keep going.

Sanford's lawyers tried to block media access to search warrants of his data. More recently, they've said Sanford's email was hacked. That seems, in sports lexicon, a Hail Mary.

So far the investigation is just that. There's been no charges. There's been nothing concrete reported. That hasn't stopped the rumors and "did you hears" that always accompany stories like this.

If something comes of the investigation, there can't be a shrug of the shoulders and a return to business as usual. Child pornography isn't an extra-marital affair or a DUI. It is, or should be, a disqualifier in every way.

Given Sanford's wealth, power and access to those who enforce the laws, chances are he and his lawyers can string along the investigation in perpetuity and block whatever incriminating evidence that might exist from seeing the light of day. There are many who'd prefer that because it would make their lives easier. Checks with many zeroes would keep rolling.

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Just in case, they might want to think of alternatives. What if they find something?

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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