SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Sanford Health executives are distancing the health system from a reported child pornography investigation into T. Denny Sanford, the benefactor and billionaire businessman after which it is named, saying it is not part of the inquiry.

Kelby Krabbenhoft, president and CEO of the Sioux Falls-based Sanford Health, messaged the system's 49,000 employees Saturday evening to say he was "deeply concerned" about the news of the investigation, first reported late Friday by ProPublica, a national investigative news site.

"There’s nothing more sacred than the innocence of children, and our dedication to their care remains at the very core of who we are as a family," Krabbenhoft wrote. "As you hear of this news, I want you to know that this matter does not involve our health system and we have not been contacted by law enforcement."

Sanford Health, the largest rural nonprofit health system in the nation, has a major footprint in the Upper Midwest, with 480 clinics and 44 medical centers including major facilities in Sioux Falls, Fargo and Bemidji, Minn., and more than 200 Good Samaritan Society senior care locations in 26 states and nine countries.

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Sanford, who founded First Premier Bank in Sioux Falls, has in recent years doled out millions of dollars to many charities in South Dakota and nationwide, including a $55 million gift to Children's Home Society but most notably Sanford Health, where his contributions have totaled nearly $1 billion.

Sanford, who lives in Sioux Falls, has been closely associated with his namesake health system, appearing at Sanford events and making media appearances.

According to the ProPublica report, which was based on four anonymous sources, Sanford had been investigated for possible possession of child pornography, a search warrant had been issued, and the matter referred to the U.S. Justice Department for further investigation.

Sanford has not been charged with a crime, and it's not clear whether he could be facing charges or the status of any investigation into him.

The Argus Leader in Sioux Falls, which posted a similar story soon after ProPublica's piece posted on Friday, said an "electronic device" that belonged to Sanford was at the center of the probe, and the investigation had stretched from South Dakota to Arizona and California, where Sanford has homes.

Marty Jackley, former South Dakota attorney general and Sanford's personal attorney, issued a statement to the Argus Leader Friday night.

"Although we know very little about any state or federal inquiry relating to Mr. Sanford, we do know those authorities responsible for investigating allegations obviously did not find information or evidence that supported or resulted in any criminal charges," Jackley said.

In his message to employees, posted to the Sanford Health page on Facebook, Krabbenhoft sought to reassure and thank the health system's employees.

"These reports are unsettling and we take this matter extremely seriously," he wrote. "Our focus, however, remains on you — our Sanford family — as well as our patients, residents and the communities we serve. I’m grateful for your continued dedication to our important work of health and healing."