Sonny Perdue’s land deal draws new scrutiny amid chancellor search

Sonny Perdue bought a grain plant in South Carolina from one of the biggest agricultural firms in the nation at a small fraction of its estimated value shortly after Donald Trump tapped him to be U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, The Washington Post reported.

The investigation found that Archer-Daniels-Midland sold the grain storage facility in Estill, S.C. to AGrowStar, a firm then-owned by Perdue, for $250,000. Six years earlier, ADM paid more than $5.5 million for the same land, a figure that lines up with estimates from independent analysts who reviewed the records for the Post.

The report, published Tuesday, could further complicate Perdue’s ongoing push to lead Georgia’s higher education system. The Board of Regents last week voted to appoint an interim chancellor, temporarily delaying Perdue’s hopes of landing the coveted, high-paying job.

Perdue did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the Post, and did not immediately comment on Tuesday to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The former two-term governor was not required legally to disclose the deal, which was uncovered by the Post through a review of records.

An ADM spokeswoman denied that the company sold the property at a discount and said the negotiations were underway in 2015, long before Perdue was selected to join the Cabinet. She said the company couldn’t find another buyer other than AGrowStar, Perdue’s former company.

The Post’s report quoted experts who said the timing of the deal raised legal and ethical concerns. Georgetown University law professor Julie O’Sullivan, a former federal prosecutor, told the publication the deal “stinks to high heaven” and should result in an investigation.

“Only a prosecutor with the powers of the grand jury can find out, in fact, whether there was a quid pro quo that existed at the time of the deal,” she said.

Several members of the Regents, which oversees Georgia’s higher education system, declined to comment on the report.

Perdue has faced questions about his land deals before.

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