- Associated Press - Friday, April 22, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - The governing board of a Platte-based educational cooperative dragged into scandal wants to dissolve it after a murder-suicide involving two employees who authorities say were stealing money before their deaths.

An attorney for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative released a resolution Friday to terminate the co-op that the board unanimously approved last week. The plan also has to be authorized by a majority of member district school boards and the state.

It would be effective June 30, 2017, unless pending legal proceedings or other matters require it to remain an organized entity for longer.

The resolution says the termination is for the educational and financial well-being of the member districts. Governing board Chairwoman Pamela Haukaas didn’t immediately answer a telephone message for comment from The Associated Press.

Mid-Central, which consists of a group of school districts that have banded together to form an educational service unit, has faced a series of public setbacks.

Three current or former Mid-Central employees - Dan Guericke, Stephanie Hubers and Stacy Phelps - were indicted on felony charges last week from a financial investigation into the GEAR UP college-readiness program and face arraignment later this month.

The investigation was launched in September after Scott Westerhuis, who served as Mid-Central’s business manager, shot his wife, Nicole Westerhuis, and their four children, then set fire to their home and killed himself. Investigators believe Scott and Nicole Westerhuis, the assistant business manager, stole more than $1 million before their deaths, which occurred hours after the state informed Mid-Central that it was losing a $4.3 million federal contract for GEAR UP because of financial problems and accounting failures.

Scott and Nicole Westerhuis had ties to nonprofit organizations that received GEAR UP funding, including the American Indian Institute for Innovation, where they had financial oversight.

Authorities say Phelps, a former GEAR UP administrator who had been CEO of the American Indian Institute for Innovation, and Guericke, Mid-Central’s director, helped the Westerhuises attempt to avoid a potential audit of the nonprofit. Guericke and Phelps are accused of backdating two contracts between Mid-Central and the American Indian Institute for Innovation in August 2015 before they were made available to the state Department of Legislative Audit.

Guericke, who the cooperative said last month is on administrative leave, is also accused of conspiring with Scott and Nicole Westerhuis to backdate contracts with other individuals.

Hubers, who was an employee of the cooperative, is accused of receiving more than $50,000 from the organization to which that she was not entitled or that she knew had been stolen.


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