- Associated Press - Thursday, February 18, 2016

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A Platte-based educational cooperative has filed a $2 million claim against the estate of its late business manager, who was accused of killing his wife and children and setting the family home on fire before taking his own life.

Attorney Scott Swier filed the claim last week on behalf of Mid-Central Educational Cooperative acting business manager Catrina Brown and board chairwoman Pamela Haukaas, saying “there is a reasonable probability” Scott Westerhuis “may have improperly misappropriated funds” from the co-op.

Swier’s filing said the amount of possibly stolen money was uncertain and the claim might change after investigations are complete.

Swier didn’t return calls from The Associated Press to discuss the filing.

Criminal investigators said Westerhuis killed his wife and four children with a shotgun in September, just hours after the state Department of Education informed Mid-Central that it was losing its most recent $4.3 million GEAR UP contract because of financial problems and failure to follow proper accounting procedures.

Court files showed several claims suggesting financial difficulty for the family, including more than $15,000 for an American Express credit card balance, nearly $4,500 owed on an online payment account and a balance of more than $1,800 balance on the couple’s credit union overdraft account.

The state Department of Criminal Investigation is looking into Westerhuis’ personal finances, and Gov. Dennis Daugaard has asked Attorney General Marty Jackley to look beyond Westerhuis for evidence of wrongdoing in the administration of GEAR UP.

A separate inquiry by State Auditor General Martin Guindon is looking deeper at Mid-Central and potentially other organizations that worked with the cooperative. Westerhuis had ties to at least two nonprofit organizations - the American Indian Institute for Innovation and the Oceti Sakowin Education Consortium - which have received at least $2 million in GEAR UP funding since 2012, according to Internal Revenue Service records.

Both investigations continue.

Mid-Central has made several personnel changes over the past couple of months, including executive director Dan Guericke’s planned retirement in June.

The September fire destroyed the Westerhuis’ home 3 miles south of Platte, but spared other structures on rural property that resembled a mini sports complex. The lot features a half size football field with two goalposts, a two-story metal building that houses an indoor gym and weight room and a partially completed structure with open walls awaiting roof trusses.

Creditors have four months after the first publication of a notice to file claims against estates, and the window on the Westerhuis estate runs through March 25.

Pat Westerhuis, Scott Westerhuis’ mother, said Thursday she did not wish to comment on the case. A message left for the attorney handling the estate, Trudy Morgan, was not immediately returned.

Nicole Westerhuis’ estate, which is being represented by her parents, posted its initial notice on Oct. 29 so creditors have until the end of February to make claims. The credit union claim was the only one filed as of Thursday morning, according to court records.

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Follow Dirk Lammers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ddlammers

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