Attorney General Marty Jackley announced today the preliminary autopsy results have been released in connection to the house fire that occurred in Platte, S.D. on Thursday, September 17, 2015. Preliminary autopsy reports indicate that cause and manner of death for Nicole, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael Westerhuis were homicide by shotgun wounds. Cause of death for Scott Westerhuis was shotgun wound with manner of death as suspected suicide based on the current investigation findings [Attorney General Marty Jackley, press release, 2015.09.21].
Odd—the last time Attorney General Jackley investigated the suicide of a public official in south central South Dakota, it took him a month to issue autopsy results. In that 2013 case, the body and the weapon were found lying on open ground. In this case, in which investigators had to use cadaver-searching dogs to find the remains amidst the burned ruins, the Attorney General was able to issue an official conclusion (e-mailed to the press after 10 p.m.) on the cause of death in less than five days.
Scott Westerhuis had been business manager for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative based in Platte for 15 or 16 years. His wife Nicole worked for the coop as well. Mid-Central and Westerhuis made the news in May when Bob Mercer reported that the Department of Legislative Audit found trouble with Mid-Central’s handling of a 4.3-million-dollar federal grant for the GEAR UP American Indian education program. Schoenfish and Company of Parkston (which employs Rep. Kyle Schoenfish, R-19/Scotland) audited Mid-Central’s FY2014 operations and found material weaknesses but no compliance issues. The report noted that “Errors and omissions were noted in the annual financial statements prepared by cooperative officials. This is the eighth consecutive audit in which similar deficiencies have occurred.”
Mercer indicates that the state Department of Education also caught heck in an audit for lacking strong financial controls over Mid-Central’s administration of those GEAR UP dollars. According to Mid-Central’s December 11, 2014, minutes, the coop overpaid $214,000 over five years on salaries and other expenses and had to pay that money back to the state, which in turn had to pay back the feds. Those salaries included cash for two former state officials:
The audit also found two prominent advisors on GEAR UP were paid for months when they hadn’t submitted what are known as effort logs showing what they had been working on.
The two were former state Education Secretary Rick Melmer and former state Indian education director Keith Moore. They served in those posts during the previous administration of Gov. Mike Rounds.
Since at least the summer of 2012, Melmer received a stipend of $1,000 per month to serve on the Mid-Central’s GEAR UP committee, and Moore received $4,000 per month to be the committee’s chairman.
Mid-Central submitted their stipends as expenses to be reimbursed by the state Department of Education. The state department, however, didn’t require proof that the two worked.
According to the state audit of the program’s operation for 2014, they didn’t submit effort logs for the first quarter of the 2014 fiscal year covering the months of July, August, and September of 2013. The fiscal year runs July 1 to June 30.
The audit found their first logs were submitted Oct. 28, 2013.
Scott Westerhuis, the Mid-Central business manager, said Thursday that time cards hadn’t been prepared for Melmer and Moore prior to the Oct. 28, 2013, date.
Mid-Central charged the state Department of Education a total of $32,570.83 for Melmer and Moore for that period of nearly four months, according to the audit [Bob Mercer, “SD Audit Finds Unusual Activities in GEAR UP,” Pierre Capital Cournal, 2015.05.19].
Mercer also reported questionable accounting on software purchased for the GEAR UP program.
The audit also questioned whether Mid-Central provided the required matching amount of $3,567,649 for the GEAR UP contract period from Sept. 26, 2012, through Sept. 25, 2013.
Mid-Central in defense claimed $4,000 of value for each of 500 computer software products provided by Microsoft.
The auditors countered that the software was listed for public sale at $499.
The state Department of Education contended in response that each of the Microsoft products was valued at $300,000 per student [Mercer 2015.05.19].
I get the feeling we may be hearing more about this audit of Mid-Central’s and the state’s oversight of this federal money.