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T. Denny Sanford still can't give his billions away fast enough

T. Denny Sanford, the 85-year-old billionaire credit card mogul and philanthropist, is worth $3.4 billion as of Wednesday, Oct. 6, according to Forbes. The magazine annual calculates the 400 richest Americans by net worth.

Denny Sanford.jpg
T. Denny Sanford, the namesake benefactor for Sanford Health. Special to The Forum
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — South Dakota's richest man has said he plans to die broke. If that's still the goal, T. Denny Sanford is falling behind.

The 85-year-old billionaire credit card mogul and philanthropist is worth $3.4 billion as of Wednesday, Oct. 6, according to Forbes. The magazine annually calculates the 400 richest Americans by net worth.

Sanford owns First Premier Bank in South Dakota. And while he's donated to a wide range of causes and concerns, his most notable and sizable giving has been to the Sioux Falls-based health system Sanford Health.

His giving to the health system, which its leaders renamed in his honor, began with a $400 million donation in 2007 and now totals nearly $1.5 billion . His philanthropy rocketed the one-time Sioux Valley Health System to regional and national prominence.

Sanford's giving has transformed Sioux Falls into a growing regional powerhouse known more for health care and banking than as an agribusiness hub.

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His name now adorns buildings and plaques all over the state, including numerous statues in Sioux Falls erected in his honor on Sanford Health campuses.

Still, as Forbes notes, his giving isn't keeping up with the "hefty dividends" from his First Premier Bank holdings, despite his signing the Giving Pledge in 2010.

Sanford didn't even make the Forbes list a year ago. But his net worth rose over $1 billion in the past year, which was marked by both landmark giving and ongoing reports of his involvement in a child pornography investigation.

In August 2020, ProPublica broke the news , citing unnamed sources in the Justice Department, that Sanford was under investigation for child pornography.

A year later, the Associated Press r evealed two media outlets , ProPublica and the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, went to the state Supreme Court, seeking to unseal what was turned up by a search warrant as part of a months-long, multi-state investigation into what court documents listed only as an "implicated individual." The AP confirmed the subject was Sanford.

The Supreme Court has yet to rule in the matter. Sanford hasn't been charged with any crime.

Over the last year, Sanford dedicated $650 million to Sanford Health to support rural health, telehealth, graduate medical education and the Sanford Sports Complex in Sioux Falls, as well as to a host of separate and smaller causes.

Sanford Health has repeatedly distanced itself from the news of the investigation. In March, CEO Bill Gassen told South Dakota Public Broadcasting the health system had looked into the issue.

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“We’re very confident in the partnership with Mr. Sanford," Gassen said. "We took those media reports seriously and are satisfied that they were not substantiated.”

Jeremy Fugleberg is an editor who manages coverage of health (NewsMD), history and true crime (The Vault) for Forum News Service, the regional wire service of Forum Communications Co, and is a member of the company's Editorial Advisory Board.
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