The defense says Scott Westerhuis conned the world, especially the people who worked closely with him.
One of the first witnesses to take the stand in the final GEAR UP criminal case says he just did what Westerhuis told him to, even though Dan Guericke was Westerhuis’ boss.
Westerhuis, the former business manager of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative in Platte, killed his family, set their elaborate compound on fire and then killed himself in September of 2015.
Stacy Phelps wore a lot of hats in the GEAR UP grant, but when it comes to backdating a contract, Phelps says he simply trusted Westerhuis and thought he was doing the right thing.
The state alleges that Phelps deliberately falsified evidence to avoid having his organization, the American Indian Institute for Innovation, undergo a state audit.
Attorney General Marty Jackley says evidence will prove that Phelps took part in a cover up to hide the financial dealings of the AIII.
Former Mid-Central Director Dan Guericke testified that Phelps had three jobs, one working for Mid-Central, the other as head of AIII and a third on the South Dakota Board of Education.
Guericke admitted it was confusing what role Phelps was playing at any given time with the GEAR UP grant, but Guericke said that, “Didn’t concern me as long as work was getting done on the GEAR UP grant.”
Guericke told the jury that Westerhuis called him into the office on Sunday, August 9, 2015 to sign contracts he said were missing. Guericke knew they were for a state audit.
Westerhuis told Guericke to backdate the contracts and Guericke testified he knew the new contracts were not approved by Mid-Central’s board as required, but believed they were replicas of the originals.
They were not.
Guericke has pleaded guilty to a felony count of falsifying evidence.
Prosecutors say Westerhuis researched information online to figure out what terms to use for AIII to avoid an audit. Then within an hour of that began texting and calling Stacy Phelps.
Guericke testified that Westerhuis took care of all the receipts coming in from AIII and that Phelps wasn’t much of a record keeper, was not organized and would send in a big box of receipts.
Phelps’ attorney Dana Hanna told the jury that his client isn’t accused of stealing any money or helping Westerhuis embezzle.
Hanna said Phelps only crime was trusting Westerhuis who, “Lied to everybody and conned the world.”
Following Guericke’s testimony a state investigator and auditor took the stand.
Phelps is also planning to testify. The trial is expected to run into next week.