31 March 2016

Barney Got a Gun

by Eve Fisher

I hope everyone had a Happy Easter, Good Passover, and other appropriate holiday.  Up here, one of our Easter Eggs held indictments - at last - for three in one of our South Dakota scandals - Gear Up!


(Wouldn't you know it, the cheap one, only a few million missing, whereas EB-5, with $120 million missing taxpayer dollars, is still blamed on the guy who supposedly shot himself in the stomach in a field while hunting...)  
But let us rejoice in small favors.  What happened was that our own Attorney General, Marty ("I'm going to be running for governor in 2018, so I need to get something on paper") Jackley held a press conference and announced that three, count 'em THREE people were responsible for aiding and abetting Scott and Nicole Westerhuis in their embezzlement and fraud.

Quick reprise:  Early in the morning of September 17, 2015, a fire destroyed the home of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and their four children in Platte, South Dakota.  It was later declared ed by AG Marty Jackley that Scott Westerhuis shot his entire family, torched the house, and then shot himself. There is still the ongoing mystery of who called Nicole's cell phone in the middle of the night, right before the fire, and what happened to the safe that apparently got up on its hind legs and trotted out of the house before the carnage.

36705 279th Street, Platte, SD. screen cap from Google Maps, 2015.09.22.
36705 279th Street, Platte, SD.
screen cap from Google Maps,
2015.09.22.
Further reprise:  Scott Westerhuis was the business manager of MCEC, the Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which is, among other things, a hub for distributing federal grand monies to other non-profit organizations, including Gear Up.  Nicole also worked there.  Scott Westerhuis set up as many as 7 non-profit corporations related to Indian education, including - but not limited to! -  the American Indian Institute for Innovation, a/ka AIII.  Scott Westerhuis was incorporator of all of these, CFO of some, including AIII, and his wife Nicole was business manager of at least some of them.  And the Westerhuis family lived on a $1.3 million rural Platte property that included a 7,600 square foot house, a $900,000 gym complete with basketball court, weight-lifting area, and computers, and a loft with a meeting room, rooms for guests, and a kitchen.  This was on an official combined MCEC salary of $130,549.82.

Okay, back to the news conference!  On March 16, 2016, Marty Jackley announced that he filed charges against and arrested: 

Daniel Mark Guericke, MCEC Executive: 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.  Full transcript of complaint here: (PDF of Complaint filed)

Stephanie A. Hubers, Former MCEC interim business manager: 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, Former AIII (see above)/GEAR UP operator: 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.
NOTE:  Mr. Phelps' lawyer is mounting a vigorous defense, based on the idea that Mr. Phelps is a scapegoat.  Perhaps he is.  (If so, he should be thanking his lucky stars that he isn't lying in a field somewhere...)  

Among other things, Guericke, Phelps, the Westerhuises and “other unknown co-conspirators" were all accused of falsifying and backdating contracts, including those of 
  • Dr. Rick Melmer, the Dean of Education of the University of South Dakota, who (memorably) couldn't remember nine $1,000 in payments live on South Dakota television, and 
  • Keith Moore, Governor Mike Rounds' director of Indian education. 
So far, neither Dr. Melmer (who as Secretary of Education under Governor Mike Rounds, moved supervision of Gear Up from the DOE in Pierre to MCEC in Platte), nor Mr. Moore (who also received a good chunk of change), nor former Mid-Central board chairman Lloyd Persson (who actually signed the bogus contracts) have been indicted, and Jackley has indicated that they won't be.

Nor has anyone asked Secretary of Education Melody Schopp to resign, even though she let MCEC continue their interesting approach to funding for three years after she noticed that something smelled a little funny.  Apparently, they are still looking into at least two other MCEC staffers who (according to Hubers) blackmailed some money out of Westerhuis.  Cory Heidelberger suggests that Mr. Jackley look into the board members of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, which was, apparently, the hub of moving stolen money around.  And no one has mentioned my favorite, Dr. Joseph Graves, Mitchell, SD School Superintendent, who received money from the MCEC for teaching "Teaching American History" in a state that has made it optional.  

Also, we're down to only $1 million missing, instead of $14 million, but hey, it's still better than the EB-5 mess.  Right?  

Angela Kennecke, KELO-TV
Well, right now, we're all waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"Sources who have first-hand knowledge within the Department of Education tell KELO-LAND News there were questionable expenses involving GEAR UP grant money as early as 2006 that were brought to the attention of department officials."  Angela Kennecke, 3/23/16

What this means, in South Dakota speak, where no one ever admits anything is actually WRONG, is that there's something else coming.  Possibilities:

(1) People ('sources') know that more hell is about to break loose and are getting ready to get out from under it.
(2) It's possible that someone ('sources') in the higher-ups is authorizing a leak, which is the first step to a flood.
(3) They found the safe.  

Okay, the last one's HIGHLY unlikely.  And if they do find it, it'll probably just be full of pork.

And there's the recent news that "There have been several million dollars diverted out of school funding at Lower Brule [reservation] and as a result they had to go into restructuring which is a federal requirement when you have really low school performance. And so they hired AIII Stacey Phelps, which at the time was the head of AIII, and Scott Westerhuis was the COO. So they (Lower Brule) brought in AIII to manage Lower Brule schools and that had been going on for about two years."  (Thanks again, Cory Heidelberger and the Dakota Free Press!)  And people wonder why the Reservations up here are still in a world of financial hurt...

Anyway, that's the latest update from South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming.

 


10 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Eve, I love your tag line. Vegas has "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas." And I think South Dakota should adopt your line: "South Dakota, where we talk like Mayberry, act like Goodfellas, and the crazy just keeps on coming." I can see it on billboards and in TV spots :)

janice law said...

It would be funny if there weren't real need and misery.
I hope you will keep us posted- you just can't make this stuff up _ and S. Dakota is certainly beginning to give Florida a run for its money.

Eve Fisher said...

Well, Paul, I certainly plan on continuing to use the tag line. I know, you can't make this stuff up - and there's something new every month. (It takes us a while to get it out to the public, y'know, otherwise it'd be every WEEK.) More is coming!

Anonymous said...

And the hole just gets deeper and wider as the players çonyinue to dig sideways tunnels. They haven't figured out that there is a real possibility for those tunnels to collapse and then everything will be brought into full view

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, keep them coming. I can see that the next time we get together over drinks at a writers conference, there are some tales I should tell you from 25 years ago. Power corrupts and often gets away with it.

Elizabeth said...

The WNY area is just as bad. In the last couple of years, besides pedestrians constantly being hit & killed in traffic, there have been 10 or 12 incidents of cars driving into homes & businesses. Yesterday morning it was reported that a police car, allegedly responding to a call for backup, collided with the Family Dollar store in Niagara Falls:

http://wivb.com/2016/03/30/police-cruiser-crashes-into-niagara-falls-store/

Herschel Cozine said...

Oh, well, Eve, you still have Mt. Rushmore. Or are they moving that to NDak?

Eve Fisher said...

Herschel, only if they pay us enough money for it. :)
R. T., I can hardly wait.

John Floyd said...

The crazy really DOES just keep on coming! Love this column. Great post, Eve.

Leigh Lundin said...

Eve, I've been following your crime saga, so I'm delighted someone– let's hope the right parties– may be held responsible.