Hours before the Westerhuis home was found ablaze in Platte, the company Scott Westerhuis works for had just lost a multi-million dollar contract with the South Dakota Department of Education.
Tony Venhuizen, Governor Dennis Daugaard's Chief of Staff tells KELOLAND News that on September 16, the State Department of Education decided not to renew a $4.3 million contract with Mid-Central Educational Cooperative for the GEAR Up program, which encouraged Native American students to go to college. Westerhuis was business manager for Mid-Central and his wife Nicole also worked there. Fire crews were called to the family's home at 5:40 a.m. the next day, on September 17.
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The decision followed a troubled audit for the 2013-14 year in which Mid-Central had to pay the department back $214,000 because it couldn't account for how all the grant money was spent. Those funds were returned to the federal government, which administers the grant to the state.
Venhuizen says the current legislative audit for 2014-2015, currently underway, is turning up similar financial problems. And the decision was made to not renew the contract for GEAR UP with Mid-Central for the coming year.
In a KELOLAND News investigation, Angela Kennecke is looking into the problems the legislative audit uncovered with Mid-Central's accounting procedures and Scott Westerhuis' role with the educational cooperative.