His attorney says he’s an innocent man who was played by a criminal.  

But Prosecutors say Stacy Phelps broke the law and back-dated contracts to cover it up.  

Tuesday jurors are getting Phelps’ side of the story. He took the stand in the Gear Up Trial late this afternoon. 

The state rested its case and Stacy Phelps asked for an acquittal. The judge denied the request and the defense started calling witnesses. The first was Phelps himself. 

Stacy Phelps told jurors about starting a summer program at the School of Mines for Native American students while he was still a college student.  

That program was initially funded by NASA and later became the model for GEAR UP.  

Phelps said he started out as project coordinator for GEAR UP, but later just ran the summer program. He told the jury that he traveled 1,000 miles a week doing work for the American Indian Institute for Innovation in tribal schools. 

Earlier, an AIII board member, Astronaut John Herrington, told the jury he had no idea that AIII was doing contract work.  

Phelps said he had authorization to use an AIII debit card for purchases.

Phelps said he had known Scott Westerhuis for 15 years and considered him a friend, trusted him and had no reason to doubt him. Phelps claims he didn’t know about Westerhuis payroll scheme until after he had killed his family and himself in September of 2015. 

In October of 2015 Dan Guericke contacted him and asked to meet, Phelps said. 

That’s when Guericke presented him with a bill for $760,000 that AIII owed Mid Central for covering its payroll.  

Phelps said when he met with state and federal investigators in December, they didn’t seem to know about this.  

A state auditor testified that Westerhuis was paying the salaries of AIII and other non-profits he incorporated through Mid Central’s bank accounts and then stealing the money the organizations brought in, for a total of $1.3 million, which he paid himself and his wife. 

(Take a look at this video for a closer look at the Westerhuis money embezzlement scheme.)

Phelps’ attorney wanted to show the jury a picture of Scott Westerhuis to illustrate he didn’t “look like a criminal.”  But the judge denied it. 

Phelps will be cross examined Wednesday.

Tim Flannery of the Department of Legislative Audit took the stand before Phelps on Tuesday. To hear what he said about GEAR UP never being audited click here. 

KELOLAND News has put together a timeline of GEAR UP events.