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“Phelps as Scapegoat” Plays Well in Indian Press

As defense attorney Dana Hanna continues to wage media war on behalf of his client Stacy Phelps in the GEAR UP scandal, Lakota Country Times editor Brandon Ecoffey joins in casting some doubt on the state’s prosecution of the man who directed the American Indian education program that the state says was used to embezzle perhaps more than a million dollars:

Ironically, the charges levied against Stacey Phelps do not include a theft charge. If there is no evidence of him benefiting from the “conspiracy” he is allegedly involved in, what exactly is his motive?

What Phelps is guilty of is backdating work contracts that were presented to him by Westerhuis. There is no money trail leading to Stacey Phelps. There is no evidence of lavish spending. What there was evidence of was of thousands of our kids receiving an authentic college experience as a result of a program that was built and maintained by Phelps [Brandon Ecoffey, “But Then Again, Maybe I’m Just Paranoid,” Lakota Country Times, 2016.03.24].

No money trail? Accused thief Stephanie Hubers says otherwise: she’s on record in the probable cause affidavit backing her arrest explaining that the millions of dollars in her employer Mid-Central Educational Cooperative’s financial statements from late 2005 to 2014 were funneled to the American Indian Institute for Innovation, the non-profit of which Phelps was CEO.

Nonetheless, Ecoffey says the GEAR UP scandal and the charges against Phelps (the only tribal member officially implicated so far) fit into a pattern of state exploitation and persecution of Native people:

Now I could possibly be wrong about all of this. Maybe our people’s past experiences of dealing with the state have made me less trusting of its government. It is hard to forget that this is the state that institutionalized the taking of native children for profit and that also placed monumental barriers in the path of our people when they try to vote. It is very difficult to ignore the fact that AG Marty Jackley has a prosecutorial record soaked in misconduct and a reputation for employing prosecutors with less than favorable views of Native people [Ecoffey, 2016.03.24].

The GEAR UP scandal is just one more example of the powers that be stealing from Native people. How much Phelps participated in that crime and how much he’s being scapegoated remains to be seen. Whatever Phelps’s role, Ecoffey makes clear how the GEAR UP scandal sets white-Indian relations even further back in South Dakota.


  1. Mark Winegar 2016-03-27

    This case should be tried in court and not in the press unless it serves to illuminate the long practice of exploitation suffered by Native Americans.

  2. mike from iowa 2016-03-27

    Ecoffey has a valid point about Jackley and I’m guessing the anti-Native bone is widespread in certain gubmint departments in South Dakota.

  3. 96Tears 2016-03-27

    I agree with you Mark. The Gear Up tragedy and scandal eclipses the lasting harm to deserving Native children who should have been better served by the cooperative’s management and the Rounds and Daugaard administrations. While we’re normally suspect of a defendant’s attorney running to the press, Hanna’s actions haven’t increased the circus atmosphere and political gamesmanship of the ordeal. It was a circus before he entered the ring.

    Just look at Marty Jackley and Mark Mickelson sparring over who has the better reform ideas aimed at Gear Up, with all of the dignity of a back alley cock fight. The Sanford Leader is putting a laser beam on Jackley’s and Mickelson’s drama queen theatrics while KELO’s Angela Kennecke has done the most digging on the hard news story of who broke the law and who got the money. The Sanford Leader has decided this is all about the next SDGOP governor primary and it’s not about deep seeded corruption that continues to run rampant and it’s not about Native kids being cheated out of a college program’s benefits.

    It’s not at all surprising that Jackley would use his office to slash away at Native populations and to make scapegoats out of mid-level players while letting the Protected Class off the hook. There is something profoundly rotten in Pierre that stinks so badly that even the Attorney General and the teflon coated Mark Mickelson are making political hay for the 2018 election.

    The irony is the public still doesn’t seem to be zeroed in on the widespread criminality of the Rounds/Daugaard regime in EB-5, which the press now looks at as old news (because that’s easier than saying, whoops, we dropped the ball), and Gear Up. I blame the press as an institution which has failed very badly in doing its full job of investigating and keeping ongoing criminal activity under the Klieg lights in their reporting and in their editorial pages. An open and free society doesn’t stay open and free if the watchdogs choose to stay asleep.

  4. Roger Elgersma 2016-03-27

    Both whites and Natives made mistakes and both get caught. That part is fair. But to run a program with so much money and so little results and so much corruption is evidence that the people running it were at least subconsciencely prejudiced or they would not waste so much money or overlook it so little. To put that much money into a program both the whites and natives involved would want the money spent wisely to make as much difference as possible. When the natives learn from our system and copy our system to make the same mistakes as we do, then we are responsible for teaching them wrong.

    We kill the Natives to take their land then we send lawyers to be Indian agents to give them supplies and the lawyers sell the supplies to the settlers who name counties after them for all the help they gave the settlers, then we put them on reservations which is the worst land that no farmer wanted then we take away their kids to reeducate them that tearing apart families is worthwhile if they learn to work for our system. They surely need to have their own values to ever move forward in a positive direction rather than learning from us.

  5. Roger Elgersma 2016-03-27

    so little results is not worthwhile.

  6. Paul Seamans 2016-03-27

    I would imagine that the native community is concerned about the corruption in a program that is set up to benefit their kids. Be the perpetrators non-native or native. Corruption is corruption.

  7. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-27

    On trying the case in the media: it is interesting that attorneys Mike Butler and Clint Sargent (defending Dan Guericke and Stephanie Hubers, respectively) have not been nearly as vocal as Dana Hanna in the press.

    I still maintain that Hanna is as much within his rights to call the state out for scapegoating and failing to catch corruption sooner as Jackley is to launch his prosecution with another “Pray with Platte” display. Hanna is making a political argument that plays better before the cameras than it will before a jury.

  8. grudznick 2016-03-27

    They should let this young fellow go free without prosecution, since he’s an Indian.

  9. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-27

    Grudz, I think the text of my original post makes clear that I’m not saying that.

  10. Spike 2016-03-27

    He back dated a contract that was signed by Guericke and sent to him by Weisterhuis. How many times are such documents handled in such a way? Often. How many times are they handled in such a way after investigators ask about them? NOT often.

    I have talked to dozens of students and adults involved in Gear-Up activities. They almost all feel Stacey was making a positive impact on the students. Getting a true feel of college on the campus of a stellar educational institution. Not enough fiscal controls. Obviously.

    Jackley bringing a preacher to a press conference announcing the indictments. Unbelievable.

    This will be done in a court of law, n none of Staceys “peers” will be the skin color he is. But I guess justice knows no color.

  11. grudznick 2016-03-27

    I know you’re not saying that, Mr. H. You are saying it remains to be seen how much Mr. Phelps did bad and how much he’s just being scapegoated along with two other non-Indian people.

    I’m saying they should let him go. You always need to leave one to go back and warn the others.

  12. mike from iowa 2016-03-27

    South Dakota gubmint is the last refuge of a scoundrel or thirty.

  13. Lacie Davis 2016-03-27

    I guess many don’t know Stacy phelps like many. He lives in a nice big house, cars and funds his ex wife with 100,000 dollars and family members. He should go to jail and never work with children or work with government funded programs. He’s a theft and makes his life around exploiting native Americans children. Banish him from his tribe.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-27

    Lacie, can you tell us how you come by this information?

  15. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-03-27

    Leave one to go back and warn the others? Don’t they have Melmer for that? Or Moore? Or Schopp?

  16. leslie 2016-03-28

    wow, this thing is a mess. the better for rounds/daugaard/jackley et al. to escape accountability, I suggest. the fine line u conclude cory is astute and 96, mark, spike and roger e. are very thought provoking. grudz is completely disgusting representing mainstream red necks. special prosecutor? jackley is so tainted. there are echos of duffy’s defending the philip beer slinger in the press, his oft strategy thru an entire career. law enforcement, a lowly magistrate and a less than ideal municipal prosecution were ineffective scapegoats that still smell to high heaven imo. score: Philip white privilege (epitomized by grdz) 1/ Indians and justice for the rest of us 0.

    now daugaard signs HB1060 backing waterboy schoenbeck which tears the heart out of a law in retaliation for Indian boldness speaking out in a colonial back woods majority society.

    santema’s blog couldn’t be more covered in excrement/horse offal/party loyalty as he claims that 1060 and all its proponents achieved a “compromise”. he may as well apologize for EB5 as a single source crime, MCEC as a glitch only a murderer was responsible for, and then jump off a cliff, crawl inside a dead horse, and then be reborn at dawn as a reasonable person.

    OJ and the dream team couldn’t create or save a bigger fiasco and miscarriage of justice in every way. yuk.

    unchecked republican corruption in SD meets and exceeds every example witnessed on the national stage. we seem to have a good judge or politician or two here and there, but that is about it.

  17. private richard 2016-03-28

    From Westerhuis up, follow the money. All the way to Indian country (next county over for most of us in this state). imo, they’ve got their fair-share of ongoing corruption, and it’s easy to see they have tribal administrators and families that profit from and allow it to continue. I don’t have anything against Native Americans or Phelps, but think he and some of his family members made too much money from the program(s) he was in charge of, and I can’t not think corruption is involved. Just like Guericke. Just like Hubers. Just like Melmer. Just like Moore. Just like…the list goes on. Just riding the inside-government program gravy train. Then they got caught and have to get off. These people’s aren’t worth the kind of money these programs pay them. Compared to most of us, they were overpaid and were getting over because of connections. What a shame. And yes, it pisses me off.

  18. leslie 2016-03-28

    rounds, daugaard and jackley, regents, NSU, banking commission, tidemann, GOAC, GOED and lawyers, lawyers, lawyers paid by the state are the facilitators

  19. Matt Rankin 2016-03-29

    The Times article is agendist, just like it’s author. It’s void of glaring known facts, and pedestrian. I’ve been creeping around Pine Ridge for the better part of 15 years, and as a wasicun, I’ve been curious about how the natives feel about Gear Up, since no white reporters anywhere ever asked an indian “How do your people feel about this?” So honestly, this Times opinion is the first native one I’ve heard. Phelps is in the shadow of another Jackley shoe, and the Fed shoe too. The powers that be in this State have just figured out that the pot has finally boiled over, and citizens aren’t going to let it pass any more. Social media, and fabulous coverage like DFP, are the tools of change without violence. The Times promotes an indian rift that few wasicuns know about, the one between Pine Ridge and Rosebud, AKA, infighting between neighboring prison camps.

  20. T Long Turkey 2016-03-31

    I think you may be right and Marty Jackley knows it. I’m not sure who is worse him or Seiler.

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