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.
Prosecutors say Stephanie Hubers used the non-profit AIII as her “personal slush fund.”
“The evidence came in, and everybody worked hard,” Attorney General Marty Jackley said.
Attorney General Marty Jackley said Hubers covered-up her monthly payments from AIII by listing them as “grant set up fees,” even though she didn’t set up any grants or do any work directly for the corporation.
Jackley says Hubers’ close working and personal relationship with Scott and Nicole Westerhuis put her in a position to receive the payments. He also says Scott Westerhuis, who’s been characterized during the trial as controlling, never bullied Hubers into taking the money.
But defense attorney Clint Sergeant said Hubers’ friendship with the Westerhuises is “guilt by association.” He called Scott Westerhuis a “worst kind of monster,” who didn’t have accomplices, just victims.
Sergeant said Hubers’ couldn’t have stolen from AIII since Westerhuis knew all about the payments.
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.