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March 16, 2017 05:58 PM

AIII Board Chairman Testifies In GEAR UP Hearings

Lake Andes, SD

Everybody trusted Scott Westerhuis.  That’s the theme in Thursday’s testimony at the GEAR UP hearings. 

Three people are facing charges: former Mid Central Assistant Business Manager Stacy Phelps; former Mid Central Director Dan Guericke and former AIII head Stacy Phelps.  The state called three witnesses and all three defense attorneys had a chance to cross examine them.  The most explosive testimony was from former astronaut John Herrington. 

Herrington is the first Native American to go into space.  He told the court he got involved with Phelps back in 2007 when he came to Rapid City to check out the summer program Phelps was running at the School of Mines.

He was named chairman of the board of AIII in 2008. 

Herrington is a witness for the state and had some pretty damning words to say about Phelps and Westerhuis.  Herrington said he and the other board member, Carlos Rodriguez of Washington, D.C., met over the phone with Phelps, Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and Jay Roman four times a year.  AIII’s original plan was to build a charter STEM boarding school for Native American students in the Black Hills.  But that never came to fruition. 

However, Herrington says he thought AIII was only administering three grant programs including GEAR UP and Teacher Quality.  He says after the Westerhuis tragedy, investigating what really happened with AIII became a full-time job for him.  He discovered that AIII had entered into contracts with tribes across the state to run schools.  Herrington says he told Phelps he couldn’t operate AIII in a for-profit manner, but Phelps told him other non-profits do the same thing.

Herrington said for months prior to Westerhuis murdering his family, he had asked Phelps for more information about how AIII was operating and that Phelps told him he’d have to come to South Dakota himself to find out.  Herrington did come here after the tragedy and says he was infuriated by what he saw, especially the 22 vehicles and heavy equipment purchased by Westerhuis. 

“I was so angry, I was beyond angry. I was taken advantage of; the board was taken advantage of and I was pissed,” Herrington said while testifying. 

Herrington says he began reviewing AIII bank records after that and they didn’t make sense to him. He asked Phelps for receipts, but Phelps told him Westerhuis had all the receipts and they were lost.  He asked Phelps for receipts from after Westerhuis' death and out of 60 transactions, Phelps provided only eight receipts including one for $36 from a coffee shop

Phelps’ defense attorney argued there really were no rules in place for Phelps when it came to spending by AIII.  Herrington testified that the AIII policy and procedures manual produced by Westerhuis was on Google drive and disappeared. Herrington also says he trusted Phelps and Westerhuis to take care of their responsibilities.  But once he found out how out of control the spending had gotten and the contracts AIII had that he had no idea about, he shredded Phelps’ bank card and fired him. 

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