- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2018

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A former South Dakota educational cooperative employee accused in an embezzlement scheme said Thursday she didn’t know her boss and his wife were stealing money before their deaths in a 2015 murder-suicide.

Stephanie Hubers, a onetime Mid-Central Educational Cooperative assistant business manager, testified at her theft trial, saying of the embezzlement: “I still don’t believe it.” Hubers is accused of getting about $55,000 to keep quiet about the misconduct by Mid-Central business manager Scott Westerhuis and his wife, Nicole.

Hubers became emotional on the witness stand, crying as she remembered Scott Westerhuis asking her to take care of his children and mother if anything happened to him and Nicole. Scott Westerhuis asked for the favor about five years before he shot his wife and their four children, then set fire to their home and killed himself in 2015.

“I said, ‘Absolutely.’ I still stand by that today,” Hubers recalled in the courtroom. “I loved those kids as if they were my own.”

Attorney General Marty Jackley, a prosecutor, emphasized in his questioning Hubers’ close relationship to the Westerhuis family - going boating and spending time at their home - and her knowledge of Mid-Central, including that cooperative money was going to a separate nonprofit for payroll. Jackley earlier told jurors that Hubers knew about the couple’s theft, participated in it and profited from it.



Authorities said she received the money she wasn’t entitled to, or knew had been stolen, from the separate nonprofit from 2009 to 2014. Jackley earlier said Hubers invoiced the nonprofit for payment for work she didn’t perform.

But Hubers said Scott Westerhuis presented the extra payments to her as a raise for her work at Mid-Central, and she reported the income for tax purposes. A different Mid-Central employee also testified Thursday Westerhuis paid her extra money from the nonprofit.

Hubers was the last witness to testify before the defense rested its case. Closing arguments in the trial are scheduled for Friday.

Hubers, 45, has pleaded not guilty to one count of grand theft, two counts of grand theft by deception and three alternative receiving stolen property counts. She faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and fines for each count.

The trial comes more than two years after authorities launched a financial investigation because of the deaths. Investigators believe the total amount that Scott and Nicole Westerhuis stole before their deaths surpassed $1 million.

The investigation spurred the felony charges in 2016 against Hubers and two others who allegedly helped in the couple’s embezzlement scheme. The others charged in the case, former Mid-Central Director Dan Guericke and consultant Stacy Phelps, are to face trial later.

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