Three people involved with an education cooperative that contracted with state government face criminal charges. South Dakota’s attorney general announced charges of falsifying evidence, conspiracy, and grand theft related to Mid Central Education Cooperative.
Mid Central Education Cooperative gained statewide attention in September when one of its leaders died violently. An investigation revealed that Scott Westerhuis killed his wife and four children before lighting the family home on fire and shooting himself.
Now a criminal investigation exposes more than $1 million stolen within Mid Central and other affiliated programs.
Attorney General Marty Jackley says two leaders, Dan Guericke and Stacy Phelps, are charged with changing contracts and backdating documents trying to avoid a federal audit. He says evidence shows Geuricke and Scott Westerhuis also tried to survive a potential audit by drawing up and backdating two employment contracts – one with Rick Melmer and another with Keith Moore.
"Shortly thereafter on September 14th at approximately 11:43 a.m., Nicole Westerhuis emailed the backdated contracts to the department of Legislative Audit with a carbon copy to two South Dakota Department of Education employees and to Scott Westerhuis," Jackley says.
Jackley says the investigation reveals people stole money. He says false invoices on the books shifted money from one organization to another and into people’s pocketbooks. He says some of the money went to the Westerhuises. Employee Stephanie Hubers faces charges of grand theft or receiving stolen property.
"Yes, there were other individuals looked at and other payrolls," Jackley says. "There has been at least an initial decision at this point, given the totality of the circumstances, that we have not moved forward beyond Stephanie."
Jackley says further investigation could prompt additional charges related to Mid Central and six associated businesses. He says the timeline for those is governed by the crimes’ statute of limitations.
Mid Central is under a review by state auditors, and the South Dakota Department of Education canceled its contract with the group.
Community members asked questions about the criminal charges and wonder about the future of education programs aimed at helping Native American students.
People who live in Platte say they don’t want criminal charges related to local businesses to define their community. Kevin Kuiper works in Platte; he says it’s a tight-knit town full of quality people.
"There’s a lot of pride in this community, and the fact that this kind of a limelight is being shed on it for these reasons is hurtful, and it’s going to go on for a long, long time. I don’t know if there’ll ever be closure; I hope that something comes out of this that can finally put some kind of a closure to it so that people can keep going, but thousands of questions go through your head, and [we’re] getting closer, getting more of them answered," Kuiper says.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says all three defendants voluntarily turned themselves in on arrest warrants. They are out on bond and presumed innocent. Jackley described the charges below.
Daniel Mark Guericke, 58, White Lake
2 counts of falsification of evidence, class 6 felony, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment in the state penitentiary and/or $4,000 fine, 4 counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence, class 5 felony, punishable as a Class 6 felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine.
Stephanie A. Hubers, 43, Geddes
1 count of grand theft, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine, 2 counts of grand theft by deception, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine, 3 alternative counts of receiving stolen property, class 4 felony, punishable by up to 10 years in the state penitentiary and/or $20,000 fine,
Stacy Lee Phelps, 42, Rapid City
2 counts of falsification of evidence, class 6 felony, punishable by up to 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine, 2 counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence, class 5 felony, punishable as a Class 6 felony, with a maximum sentence of 2 years imprisonment and/or $4,000 fine.