What is Denny Sanford’s net worth? Billionaire gifts $350M amid child porn scandal

South Dakota's richest man Denny Sanford makes donation for virtual healthcare centers as the state plans to prosecute him for possession of child porn


                            What is Denny Sanford’s net worth? Billionaire gifts $350M amid child porn scandal
South Dakota businessman Denny Sanford (Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Institute website)

South Dakota's richest man, T Denny Sanford has just announced a massive new donation to Sanford Health on September 9. The founder of First PREMIER Bank said he will be donating $350M to the health system in his name, to establish virtual care centers. Normally, a donation from a billionaire wouldn't make headlines, but in Sanford's case, it has just drawn more attention towards his reported child pornography scandal, where he could soon be charged.

Billionaire donations, while often seen as a sign of generosity, can occasionally have another purpose. In May, crypto billionaire Vitalik Buterin donated crypto worth $1.5 billion to India. However, he made headlines, not for that donation, but for donating the Shiba Inu memecoin, crashing its value after he was gifted it. On July 25, we linked George Soros' $1m donation to the Color Of Change PAC with his support for defunding the police, as numerous other donations show. In June, we also covered the controversial donation of Willis Johnson, which helped fuel the deployment of South Dakota's National Guard to the Texas border.

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Now, we'd like to put the spotlight on Sanford. Even before this donation, there were questions raised about Sanford's reputation, given the reportedly predatory behavior of First PREMIER Bank. Then in 2020, he began receiving flak for a reported investigation into his possession of child pornography. The scandals though, don't appear to have hurt Sanford much. Ironically, he once said he wanted to "die broke", but that's kind of hard when your net worth is in the millions.

Denny Sanford (R) with Robert Wilke at the announcement of the partnership between the VA Department and Sanford Health. (Robert Wilke/Twitter)

 

What is Sanford's net worth?

Forbes puts Sanford's net worth at $3.4b as of September 2021. The 85-year-old banking mogul is the richest person in South Dakota, and number 1111 in the world, Forbes ranks. In 2007, he made the news for his famous declaration of wanting to "die broke", but as Forbes notes, "Sanford is no closer to bankruptcy than when he began." Since he made that declaration, his net worth has shot up by at least $500m according to some estimates. 

That is despite Sanford's numerous donations, mostly to children's causes. Over the years, he has given more than $1.6b to charity, cutting checks directly from his bank account. Unlike other billionaires, he doesn't have a foundation or a grant through which he funnels his cash. Wondering just how he got so rich in the first place? In 1956, Sanford started his own company Contech, which he sold in the 80s for $20m. He then used $5m to buy a ten-branch bank in Sioux Falls, which he rebranded to First PREMIER. But it wasn't the banks that made him a billionaire, instead, it was the credit cards.

With sky-high interest rates and offering cards to those with terrible credit, Sanford has turned the First PREMIER Bank into one of the most profitable, and concerning banking businesses in the US. The profits from the business have also fuelled Sioux Valley Health for years, which in 2017 he named after himself. In February 2007, he managed to do that by making a donation of $400 million. He's now followed it up with a more modest $350m donation.

Denny Sanford accepting an award from ⁦ Research America on March 14, 2019. (Twitter) ⁩

Child porn scandal

In August 2020, ProPublica revealed the investigation into Sanford, after the South Dakota attorney general’s Division of Criminal Investigation obtained a search warrant. Charges are yet to be filed, but they could soon be coming. In August 2021, the South Dakota Supreme Court heard arguments on unsealing the documents related to the investigation. Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg believes there is sufficient evidence to prosecute the businessman but has referred the case instead to the Department of Justice.

"Federal prosecutors have given no indication that they are bringing charges against Sanford, and Ravnsborg has not dropped plans to prosecute him if the Justice Department declines," the Associated Press reported. It's unclear how the court will rule on the matter, and it has not given a timeline for when the ruling will come. In the meantime, Sanford finds his donations less and less appealing. Since news of the investigation broke, many out-of-state businesses, non-profits, and charities have refused his checks, but the same cannot be said for those in South Dakota.

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