A Minnehaha County jury will hear closing arguments Friday in the trial of GEAR UP defendant Stephanie Hubers. Hubers took the witness stand Thursday, at times becoming emotional during her testimony.
Hubers is charged with grand theft and receiving stolen money for allegedly helping Scott and Nicole Westerhuis steal millions of dollars in grant money from the GEAR UP education program for Native American students.
Hubers testified that Scott Westerhuis arranged to give her a $10,000 dollar a year raise for her work with the Mid-Central Education Co-Op in Platte. That money came from from Westerhuis’s American Indian Institute for Innovation, otherwise known as AIII. But prosecutors say those payments amounted to hush money.
Stephanie Hubers testified that she still can’t believe that Scott and Nicole Westerhuis stole money from the GEAR UP program. In explaining her $10,000 a year pay raise, 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.
In his cross-examination, Attorney General Marty Jackley pointed out that Hubers, as an employee of Mid-Central, didn’t even work for AIII. But Hubers says she did not delineate between the two organizations.
Hubers testified that she never considered Westerhuis, as business manager of Mid Central, had a conflict of interest paying her with money from AIII. But Jackley said that in an earlier interview with investigators, Hubers said the payments were a “big flash” conflict of interest.
Hubers began to cry as she recalled how Scott Westerhuis asked her to take care of his children if something ever happened to him and his wife, Nicole. Hubers said she loved the Westerhuis children as if they were her own kids.
But Jackley says that close friendship between Hubers and the Westerhuises was the basis for a crime.
During testimony, Hubers acknowledged she accompanied the Westerhuises to Disney World, but said it was a business-related trip to attend a conference there.
Hubers described Scott Westerhuis as very controlling at work and not a person to question or challenge. Hubers said she did not think about quitting because she loved her job and the reason behind Mid-Central.