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Citizens for Community Improvement: ISU also to blame in Rastetter ethics complaint

BY NICHOLAS MILLER | JUNE 21, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement filed an ethics complaint against state Board of Regent member Bruce Rastetter on Tuesday, but one member of the organization contends that Rastetter isn't the only person at fault.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement complaint against Rastetter alleges he failed to give notice of an alleged conflict of interest during negotiations in a "land grab" deal involving Iowa State University and AgriSol Energy.

Rastetter could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Rastetter is CEO and president of AgriSol. The deal entailed the accumulation of land in Tanzania for a project that would have resulted in millions of dollars in profits for Rastetter and AgriSol, the complaint alleges.

"We should never have to wonder if he is representing himself for financial gain or the public interests of the entire state," said David Goodner, an Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement member said. "That's why he needs to resign."

Rastetter's position on the board created a conflict of interest with the AgriSol and the ISU deal, the complaint alleges, but Rastetter and Iowa State officials moved forward with negotiations.

That's why, Goodner said, the Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are pointing fingers not only at Rastetter but Iowa State officials as well.

"[Certain] ISU officials … need to be held accountable as well," Goodner said. "The fact is, because they were negotiating with Rastetter prior to his appointment to the Board of Regents, there is no excuse for them to claim that they didn't know about his obvious conflict of interest after he was appointed. They should have blown the whistle on him, but instead, they collaborated."

The three officials Goodner made reference to all have connections to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Iowa State.

John McCarroll, the director of university relations at Iowa State, declined to comment directly on the ethics complaint.

"It would be inappropriate for us to say anything about it," he said, adding that he sees the complaint as an issue separate from the university.

The corporate agribusiness project would have evicted subsistence farmers from refugee camps in Tanzania, which would have allowed AgriSol to lease the land from the government for 25 cents an acre, the complaint alleges.

The official complaint said the exporting of "the vertically integrated, industrial model of corporate agribusiness from Iowa to Tanzania — all duty and tax free" would have netted AgriSol investors around $300 million a year.

Discussions of the deal between Rastetter and the university date back to 2009, before he was appointed to his position on the Board of Regents, according to the complaint.

The Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement are asking that Rastetter resign from his position on the board or from his CEO positions in AgriSol and the Summit Group — an umbrella company that owns AgriSol Energy — as well as sell his ownership stake in the companies.

"I don't think he can ever regain the trust of everyday Iowans," Goodner said. "But doing one of those things would be a basic first step and signal that he's willing to take responsibility for his actions."

The regents will not officially address the complaint until their meeting in August, Goodner said. The regents will then decide whether to throw the complaint out or move forward with an investigation.

Megan Tooker, the executive director of the Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board, could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Several regents said they did not have enough information to give a formal comment on the issue.

"I haven't talked to any of the other regents, I haven't talked to Bruce Rastetter, I don't have any background knowledge to be able to speak about it," Regent Katie Mulholland said.

Regent Nicole Carroll declined to comment.

Even though the complaint has been filed, Goodner believes more details about the deal will come to life.

"This is a story that people last year tried to dismiss, but it certainly has legs," he said. "Things keep coming to light, so I don't think this is the end."

Metro Editor Kristen East contributed to this story.


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