Updated at 5:38 p.m.
Stephanie Hubers, the assistant business manager at Mid Central Education Co-Op in Platte, has been found not guilty.
Hubers’ trial ended on Friday with the jury clearing her of grand theft and receiving stolen money charges. She had been accused of helping Scott and Nicole Westerhuis steal millions of dollars in grant money from the GEAR UP education program for Native American students.
Authorities launched an investigation after Mid-Central business manager Scott Westerhuis killed his wife and children in a murder-suicide back in 2015.
Hubers was accused of taking more than $50,000 in payments to keep quiet.
The trial, which began on Monday, was moved from Charles Mix County to Minnehaha County because her attorney argued she wouldn’t be able to get a fair trial in Lake Andes because of pre-trial publicity.
Attorney General Marty Jackley, who prosecuted for the state, said Hubers not only knew what Scott was up to but actively participated in theft. Jackley said Tuesday the Westerhuis and Hubers families were so close, they went boating and traveled to Disney World together.
In closing arguments on Friday, Jackley said Hubers did nothing for the American Indian Institute except cash paychecks.
Hubers’ attorney Clint Sargent claimed his client “didn’t steal a thing.” On Thursday, Hubers testified that Scott arranged to give her a $10,000 a year raise for her work with the Mid-Central Education Co-Op in Platte. That money came from Westerhuis’s American Indian Institute for Innovation, otherwise known as AIII. But prosecutors say those payments amounted to hush money.
Hubers said Scott Westerhuis told her to create an invoice of $833 month but label the charges as a “grant fee setup.” Hubers said she never questioned the practice, assuming there was a large influx of money to AIII or Westerhuis was paying money ahead of schedule.
Judge Bruce Anderson oversaw the trial.
Published at 5:13 p.m.
A Minnehaha County jury has reached a verdict in the case of a former South Dakota educational cooperative employee accused in an embezzlement scheme.
Closing arguments were Friday in the theft trial of Stephanie Hubers. She’s accused of receiving about $55,000 to keep quiet about embezzlement by Mid-Central Educational Cooperative business manager Scott Westerhuis and his wife before they died in a 2015 murder-suicide.
Hubers testified earlier in the trial that the extra payments were presented to her as a raise. South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley, who is prosecuting the case, asked the jury to hold Hubers accountable by finding her guilty of grand theft and grand theft by deception or alternative counts of receiving stolen property.
KELOLAND’s Perry Groten will be there when the verdict is read. Look for updates on KELOLAND.com.