- Associated Press - Thursday, May 19, 2016

LAKE ANDES, S.D. (AP) - Two South Dakota educational organizations are seeking to mend financial damages they argue were caused by a couple who were embezzling money before they died in a murder-suicide that also left their four children dead.

A nonprofit organization involved in South Dakota’s GEAR UP scandal is seeking damages from the estates of Scott and Nicole Westerhuis, the Argus Leader (https://argusne.ws/1YGETj3) reported Thursday.

The move from the nonprofit American Indian Institute for Innovation is in response to an April lawsuit filed by Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, the Westerhuises’ former employer. The co-op alleges that the Institute, which received GEAR UP funds, improperly took Mid-Central money to fund its payroll.

Authorities say the Westerhuises used the American Indian Institute for Innovation, where they had financial oversight roles, to embezzle money from Mid-Central.

Officials launched a criminal investigation in September after Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and their four children, then set fire to their home near Platte and killed himself.

Scott Westerhuis served as Mid-Central’s business manager, and the co-op employed Nicole Westerhuis as assistant business manager.

The Westerhuis deaths occurred just hours after the state informed Mid-Central it was losing a contract for GEAR UP - a federal program aimed at helping high-poverty middle and high school students prepare for college - because of financial problems and accounting failures.

Three current or former Mid-Central employees have been indicted on felony charges stemming from the investigation.

In a civil complaint, Mid-Central alleges the Institute didn’t fulfill its contractual requirements and benefited unjustly from the co-op’s funds. In a response, the Institute argues that the Westerhuises were at fault for the embezzling scheme, not the organization.

Mid-Central also sued Westerhuis’ estate for $2 million in damages in February, the newspaper reported.

An attorney for Mid-Central wasn’t available for comment. A lawyer for the Institute declined to comment.

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This story has been updated to reflect that the report was published Thursday.

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


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