Jury selection got underway Wednesday in the trial of the last defendant in the GEAR UP Case.
Stacy Phelps is the former head of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, which received GEAR UP grant money to run the programs in schools across the state.
Phelps is accused of conspiring with Scott Westerhuis to backdate contracts to stop a state audit into AIII’s finances.
On Wednesday, attorneys are whittling down the jury pool to just 12. Many potential jurors were dismissed after saying they couldn’t presume that Phelps was innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Many indicated they had followed the GEAR UP case in the news and had formed opinions already.
Prosecutors wanted to introduce evidence showing that Phelps spent some $240,000 in federal grant money on expensive dinners and personal items.
The state has alleged those receipts show that Phelps and Scott Westerhuis worked together to hide that spending from authorities.
But the judge has blocked those receipts from being brought up during Phelps trial.
Astronaut John Herrington, who is an AIII board member, is expected to be called as a witness for the state to testify that he was unaware of Phelps’ expenditures until after Westerhuis’ death.
Phelps’ attorney plans to call former Education Secretary Melody Schopp and AIII employee Jay Roman to testify.
The defense also plans to show a photo of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis and of Phelps’ house in Rapid City.
In June, former Mid Central Educational Cooperative employee Stephanie Hubers was acquitted on theft charges in the state’s GEAR UP case.
On September 28, former Mid-Central Director Dan Guericke plead guilty to one count of falsifying evidence.
Prosecutors say as part of Guericke’s plea bargain, he has to cooperate with the state and may be called to testify against Phelps.
Phelps’ trial is expected to last through next Wednesday.