- Associated Press - Friday, November 13, 2015

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A man involved in administering a Native American college-readiness program under scrutiny in South Dakota has resigned.

Mid-Central Educational Cooperative accepted the resignation of former GEAR UP program administrator Stacy Phelps on Thursday, the Argus Leader newspaper reported (http://argusne.ws/1PrqqGx ).

Co-op Director Dan Guericke declined comment. A working telephone listing for Phelps, who has previously declined to comment, could not be found. An attorney for Mid-Central didn’t immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment Friday.

Phelps last month also resigned from the state Board of Education. Gov. Dennis Daugaard at the time said Phelps’ departure was due to “many questions” surrounding the GEAR UP program.

The program has come under scrutiny because of a murder-suicide in September involving two co-op employees. Authorities believe business manager Scott Westerhuis fatally shot his wife Nicole, and their four children then set the family home near Platte ablaze before shooting himself. Nicole Westerhuis was an assistant business manager at the organization.

The killings came hours after the state informed the cooperative it was cancelling a $4.3 million contract with Mid-Central to administer the federal GEAR UP grant, which in South Dakota has been focused on Native American students.

State Education Secretary Melody Schopp cited financial problems and failures to follow proper accounting procedures as reasons in a follow-up letter sent five days later.

Phelps and Westerhuis were involved together in at least one nonprofit that received at least $1.9 million in GEAR UP funds from the co-op since 2012, according to Internal Revenue Service documents. Records say Westerhuis served as chief financial officer and Phelps as chief executive of the nonprofit American Indian Institute for Innovation. Neither reported an income from the organization.

State and federal authorities also are investigating the finances of GEAR UP and other related programs, Attorney General Marty Jackley has said.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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