Couple in Murder-Suicide Linked to Alleged Scam Embezzling Native Education Money

Six months after a SD couple died in a murder-suicide, AG Marty Jackley said they stole money meant to improve college readiness in Native students.
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Six months after a South Dakota couple died in a murder-suicide, Attorney General Marty Jackley said they stole money meant to improve college readiness among Native American students.

“There has been a loss or a theft of over $1 million,” Jackley said during a March 16 press conference.

Scott Westerhuis allegedly killed his wife, Nicole, and their four children, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael, and then took his own life on September 17, 2015. Scott and Nicole both worked for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, and the deaths happened only hours after the Department of Education informed Mid-Central that it would be losing a $4.3 million federal contract for GEAR UP, a program that helps prepare Native American students for college, due to financial problems and accounting issues.

Scott had served as the business manager at Mid-Central, and Nicole as assistant business manager, reports the Associated Press. Scott was also linked to nonprofits that received GEAR UP funding, including the American Indian Institute for Innovation.

Investigators say the couple spent the money on home improvements, among other things, the Associated Press reports.

Three others are also facing felony charges including Mid-Central’s director, Dan Guericke, and Stacy Phelps, the CEO of the American Indian Institute for Innovation. They have each been charged with six felony counts. Phelps and Guericke allegedly backdated contracts between Mid-Central and the American Indian Institute for Innovation with the intent of presenting them in an audit. Guericke is also accused of conspiring with Scott and Nicole to backdate contracts.

Stephanie Hubers, a former Mid-Central employee also faces felony charges related to receiving money from the Institute that she wasn’t entitled to, or that she knew was stolen. She is also accused of falsifying invoices for services she did not provide.