South Dakota couple, now deceased, stole grant money: prosecutor

A South Dakota couple who died in a murder-suicide last year stole hundreds of thousands of dollars that were intended to fund the education of Native Americans and low-income students, the state attorney general’s office said on Wednesday.

Scott Westerhuis died of a self-inflicted shotgun wound after he shot his wife, Nicole, and their four children to death and set fire to their house near Platte, South Dakota, in September 2015, authorities have said. Platte is a small city about 110 miles (177 km) west of Sioux Falls.

Scott and Nicole Westerhuis stole about $1 million from GEAR UP, a program to prepare students for college, and used the money for home improvements, a spokeswoman for South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said. Prosecutors on Wednesday also charged three other people related to the investigation.

Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, and Nicole was assistant business manager. Through their work, they had ties to nonprofit organizations that received GEAR UP funding, including the American Indian Institute for Innovation, said Jackley’s spokeswoman, Sara Rabern.

Dan Guericke, Mid-Central’s director, and Stacy Phelps, who served as chief executive officer of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, were charged with six felony counts and are accused of backdating contracts between the two organizations on several occasions, according to court documents.

Stephanie Hubers, a former business employee at Mid-Central, faces felony charges related to theft and receiving stolen property, according to court documents.

Guericke’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment. Hubers’ lawyer declined to comment.

An attorney for Phelps, Dana Hanna, said he was disappointed in the charges and will fight them.

“The charges filed by Mr. Jackley against Stacy, charging him with falsifying evidence, are entirely meritless and we look forward to disapproving those accusations in a court of law,” he said in an emailed statement.

Hubers and Phelps are scheduled to appear in the Charles Mix County First Circuit court for a hearing on March 22.

(Reporting by Justin Madden in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

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