T. Denny Sanford, a billionaire philanthropist and ASU donor, was under investigation for possible possession of child pornography, according to a report Friday from ProPublica, which spoke to four people familiar with the investigation.
Sanford, the namesake of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics at ASU, has not been charged with any crime, according to the ProPublica report.
An electronic device that Sanford owned was the "center of a months-long" investigation that started in South Dakota last year, the Argus Leader reported.
The South Dakota publication also reported the investigation expanded to other jurisdictions where he has a home, including Arizona, "and is currently pending with the U.S. Department of Justice for possible criminal action."
Marty Jackley, Sanford's attorney, said in an emailed statement that while very little is known about the inquiry, federal or state authorities "did not find information or evidence that supported or resulted in any criminal charges.”
A University spokesperson said in an email ASU was not aware of any investigation but is aware of the reports that surfaced Friday.
"While these reports are deeply concerning, details are very scarce at the moment," the spokesperson said. "We are working to gather more details and will determine what steps, if any, should be taken related to the naming of the T. Denny Sanford School of Social and Family Dynamics and as it pertains to our relationship with Mr. Sanford as a donor.”
Sanford, 84, had the School of Social and Family Dynamics named after him in 2012 after he had donated $25 million to the school and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Sanford said in a 2012 interview with ASU Now that he shared the same goal as ASU President Michael Crow to "reduce the divorce rate in the U.S. by 50% within the next 50 years."
"I believe T. Denny Sanford will be the name associated with discovery in the areas of harmonious and healthy human development and relationships to ultimately reduce divorce and abuse rates," Crow said in the 2012 announcement of the new school name.
Sanford owns First Premier Bank, a Sioux Falls-based bank that specializes in offering credit cards to high-risk borrowers. He is the richest man in South Dakota, with a fortune totaling an estimated $1.6 billion. He is a well-known philanthropist who is a long-time donor to children's organizations. His name sits in front of an ASU scholarship, education programs and a hospital in South Dakota.
"I can think of no better return on investment than supporting a program that can change the lives of children," Sanford said in a 2018 interview with ASU Now.
Jeffrey Horst contributed to the reporting of this article
Ellie Borst is the executive editor of The State Press, overseeing the publication and its four departments: online, magazine, multimedia and engagement. She plans to graduate in May 2022 with her master's in legal studies and got her bachelor's in journalism in 2021. Previous roles she has held since joining SP in 2018 include digital managing editor, magazine managing editor, community and culture desk editor, and arts and culture reporter.