Investigates

A Flurry Of Lawsuits & Search For GEAR UP Consultant

rapid city, sd - KELOLAND News is getting a better picture of what Scott and Nicole Westerhuis were allegedly doing with the GEAR UP money thanks to new filings in the Charles Mix County Courthouse. 

Tonight our KELOLAND News investigation reaches out to one of the players in the GEAR UP grant, who has remained among the most elusive.

With all the civil lawsuits now flying around Charles Mix County, it can get a little confusing.  

What you need to know is that Mid Central Educational Cooperative, out of Platte, SD is suing the American Indian Institute for Innovation for unspecified damages.
 
Mid Central has already filed a $2 million claim against Scott Westerhuis' estate because the educational cooperative is worried the State will ask it to pay back the embezzled grant funds. 

Now, AIII has also filed a lawsuit seeking damages from both Scott and Nicole Westerhuis' estates. 

Both Mid Central's lawsuit against AIII and AIII's lawsuit against the Westerhuis' estates gives us a little more information on the deceased couple's activities.  Both Mid Central and AIII deny knowing anything about what the Westerhuises were doing with the GEAR UP grant money. 

Mid Central's suit alleges that AIII would improperly use between $40,000 to $150,000 of Mid Central's funds every month.  According that lawsuit, AIII owed Mid Central as much as $826,000. 

In AIII's suit against Scott Westerhuis' estate, court papers say Westerhuis got an American Express Card without letting AIII know and used the funds for himself. AIII also says Westerhuis made 'inappropriate purchases with an AIII debit card, as well as through PayPal, Amazon and made payments to a college account for the Westerhuis children. 

The other recent lawsuit is one filed by Alyssa Black Bear.  The former Todd County High School student is suing Mid Central for breach of contract. She wants to represent a class of students who were supposed to benefit from the GEAR UP college readiness program.

Black Bear's lawsuit names several people and their roles in the grant program. One of them is Brinda Kuhn.  Late last fall, our KELOLAND News investigation revealed that Kuhn was paid more than $1 million by Mid Central.  She wrote glowing evaluations of the program for the State while being paid as a consultant by Mid Central. 

KELOLAND News has spent several months trying to track down Brinda Kuhn and found she is now running a consignment store called "Booty & Loot" on Jackson Boulevard in Rapid City. 

Angela Kennecke recently stopped by the shop to try to speak with her. 

“Hi, Is Brinda Kuhn here?” Angela Kennecke asked.

“No she's not,” the store clerk replied.

But the woman working in Booty and Loot offered to call owner Brinda Kuhn for me.

“There's a lady here from KELOLAND TV, would you like to talk to her?’ The clerk asked Kuhn over the phone.

“HI Brinda? This is Angela Kennecke from KELO-TV,” Angela said.
Sound of phone going dead.

“Oh, I guess she doesn't want to talk to me,” Angela said.

A few minutes later, the clerk reached Kuhn again and came back to tell me that Kuhn wasn't interested in talking to anyone right now.

So far the three people facing criminal charges in the state's GEAR UP investigation are former Mid Central Director Dan Guericke, former assistant business manager, Stephanie Hubers and the former head of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, Stacy Phelps.  All three have plead not guilty to felony charges in the case.  

Attorney General Marty Jackley tells KELOLAND News that more charges may be coming in the state's investigation against those three or others by the end of June.  

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