One of the largest cases of fraud in South Dakota history came to light after our KELOLAND News investigation into the Westerhuis tragedy in Platte and the millions of dollars of GEAR UP federal grant money that was flowing into the state.
In the aftermath, only three people faced charges; one was acquitted this summer.
Now, a second GEAR UP defendant is pleading guilty to a lesser charge.
It’s been almost exactly three years since the Westerhuis tragedy in Platte. And Friday, former Mid Central Director Dan Guericke entered the Douglas County Courthouse to strike a deal with the state of South Dakota.
Guericke was originally facing six felony charges. He plead guilty to one count of falsification of evidence.
Kennecke: Why now after a couple of years have you changed your plea?
Guericke: I don’t have any comment, thank you.
Guericke admits that he signed and backdated a contract between Mid Central Educational Cooperative and the American Indian Institute for Innovation that ran from 2013 to 2014.
Guericke has said that Scott and Nicole Westerhuis told him they’d lost the documents being requested for a state audit.
“Dan had no idea what Scott Westerhuis was up to and nobody alleges that he did. Dan was not trying to interfere with an audit of AIII and that state has never alleged that,” Guericke Defense Attorney Mike Butler said.
“At this point, the state felt it was a fair resolution. We took into account the accepting of responsibility for the backdating of the contract. And we took into account the willingness to cooperate,” Attorney General Marty Jackley said.
Kennecke: So Guericke could testify against Phelps?
Jackley: As part of the plea agreement and it came up repeatedly in court, Mr. Guericke is going to cooperate with law enforcement on further investigation as well as further proceedings that could include the trial that begins next Wednesday.
Stacy Phelps’ attorney has publicly said he won’t take a plea deal in the GEAR UP case. Guericke now faces up to two years in prison.
Guericke is asking for a suspended imposition, meaning his record would be erased once he serves his sentence. He’ll find out what that is on November 26.
Jury selection in the Phelps trial beings next Wednesday in Sioux Falls.
In June, a jury acquitted former Mid Central employee Stephanie Hubers on charges of covering up for the Westerhuis’ stealing grant funds and taking hush money for it.