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Scope of Westerhuis Debts Supports Murder-Suicide Theory

Court documents in the tussle over Scott Westerhuis’s estate show that the GEAR UP embezzler was carrying debt greater than a full year of his and his wife’s honest salaries when he apparently killed himself and his family last year at their fraud-financed home complex last September.

The scope of that debt should motivate us all to drop the “apparently”.

[Electrician Jim] Brenner said the bills have started piling up and he’s struggling to pay them without the $45,908.03 Westerhuis owed him for remodels of the family’s gymnasium and storage shed. Brenner said he trusted Westerhuis to pay him back once he completed work on the projects.

…Scott Westerhuis also had debts on his American Express card and Paypal account to the tune of $15,648.56 and $4,477.25 respectively, claims against his estate show.

…Westerhuis had just less than $120,000 in unpaid loans for the family’s four vehicles, two four-wheelers and a boat. The Ft. Randall Federal Credit Union brought a claim against his estate for $120,569.94 for the outstanding loans on the vehicles, an $1,830.15 personal loan, a credit card balance of $35.38 and additional late fees [Dana Ferguson, “After Platte Murder-Suicide, Debts Yet to Be Repaid,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2016.05.24].

The court documents reveal Westerhuis was also robbing the GEAR UP grant, intended to help South Dakota’s American Indian kids get into college, to put money in an education savings plan for his own four kids.

Scott Westerhuis photos
I have never seen a photo of Scott Westerhuis smiling—really smiling, with the joy of a man with a good wife, good kids, good friends, a good home, and the Good Lord on his side. (Click to enlarge.)

Scott and Nicole Westerhuis were maintaining a $1.3-million home and $900,000 gymnasium on combined annual honest salaries at Mid-Central Educational Cooperative of $131,000. Those salaries would likely have gone poof, right along with Scott and Nicole’s ability to find other gainful employment, once the state canceled MCEC’s GEAR UP contract and their scandalous behavior hit the press and the Attorney General’s desk. The money they stole from Indian kids to pay for their own privileged white kids’ education would be clawed back by creditors and the state. Scott Westerhuis, a good respected Christian man around Platte, would see his reputation, his little empire, and his future destroyed.

Scott Westerhuis quite literally faced the loss of everything. A man in that desperate situation could easily kill himself. A man who had beaten others by robbing them for his pleasure could rationalize, as his final pleasure, beating them by burning down an ill-gotten home that he could not keep so no one else could have it.

And a man who could take those steps, a man with no future, and man seeing no way left to provide his wife and children with a future, could kill his wife and children so no one else could have them.

Such evil happens. It happened in Platte last September. Scott Westerhuis built his world on lies and theft. He got so deep in sin and selfishness that he could not see a path to repentance and responsibility. Scott Westerhuis thus killed his wife, his four children, and himself.


  1. M.K. 2016-05-28

    Nothing more to be said, on this sad tale. Before any of us throw daggers; none of us know what was going through his mind. It is incomprehensible to us to kill one’s family. That just goes beyond our human understanding. May God rest their souls. Even though Scott acted on his own; their were OTHERS involved in this scandal. OTHERS that perpetuated the situation and events, that led up to this horror. These people need to be held accountable. I just wish Scott would have stayed alive; to testify.

  2. Mark Winegar 2016-05-28

    That about wraps up the story on Scott Westerhuis but there’s more to discover. The scandal was obvious to the casual observer for years yet it continued with the DOE’s blessing. Why? Who else is complicit?

  3. leslie 2016-05-28

    killing his children is unimaginable. the two adults in the family seem to have made awful, hidden choices, perhaps in every decision they ever made together as a couple. perhaps he was a total monster (well, of course he had to have been), and she was not.

    But there is more to the MCEC mess than this one guy. State law enforcement MUST get to the bottom of this and Rounds/Daugaard must be held accountable for running a state government that is as inept as this one has shown itself to be, over and over.

  4. leslie 2016-05-28

    a previous post by somebody called “moof” is curious. it seems this person wrote on cory’s blog knowing something about this.

  5. mike from iowa 2016-05-28

    Westerhuis should have talked with this right wing, kristian nut bag from Oklahoma before he acted.

    Despite the fact that Oklahoma faces a $1.3 billion deficit, GOP state Rep. David Brumbaugh excused passing the bill by claiming that God will fix the state’s crumbling economy and pay all the legal expenses resulting from forthcoming lawsuits if they do the “moral” thing and ban abortion.

    “Everybody talks about this $1.3 billion deficit,” Brumbaugh said on Thursday. “If we take care of the morality, God will take care of the economy.

  6. Richard Schriever 2016-05-28

    Geez, I don’t know. I have uncollateralized debts totaling about 10X my annual income and no hope for better employment – and I’m not considering suicide. It’s only money – seriously.

  7. Jenny 2016-05-28

    Everyone wants this story to go away but we should remember it and get serious about fighting corruption in state govt.

    It reminds me of the quote “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

  8. Michael Wyland 2016-05-28

    Hmm…perhaps. There is no mention in the Argus Leader story of a mortgage on the home or gym. With $2 million in real estate and no mortgage, there’s a lot of equity to handle the reported debts. They may have had other assets, too, including the kids’ college funds and other investments.

    Admittedly, the family would have a huge cash flow problem if they lost their MCEC jobs and Nicole lost the almost $40k she was getting separately through AIII. It’s possible to speculate about whether or where Scott and Nicole would end up professionally. While they would have been under the GEAR UP cloud, they would also possibly have friends to offer consulting contracts and even new jobs to one or both of them.

  9. mike from iowa 2016-05-28

    Not to be overly insensitive,but, there was a safe deposit box and a storage rental used by Westerhuis. Any word on what was or wasn’t found in either place?

    And just for giggles, anyone bother to get Roundsteak on Keystone 1 oil spill or try to find out why the state is running radio silence on the spill?

  10. Paul Seamans 2016-05-28

    I still feel that a person who had that many financial transactions would have protected the documents in a fireproof safe or file cabinet. Maybe I’m wrong.

  11. Mr. Sol 2016-05-28

    Was Westerhuis a Mason? He referred to Phelps as his brother…..

    Steve Sibson
    2011.12.16 at 13:11

    larry, Freemasonry separated church and state to attack the Pope being in bed with Kings. Freemasons claim that they are not a religion. so it is OK for them to be part of the government. They are a religion, it just so happens to be Satanic. Of course for Freemason, what is right and wrong does not matter. What matters is whether or not you are a member of the lodge.

  12. grudznick 2016-05-28

    Mr. Sibson frets greatly about these Freemasons. He should really be concerned about the Kiawanis, for they are closer to witches and have secret handshakes for those who run the town.

  13. Cbass 2016-05-28

    These debt levels and the resulting cash flow problems they would have faced after losing their jobs are problematic, but not cause for ending you and your bloodline IMO. Assume he had equity in the home/property and other assets not yet disclosed. They may not have even faced criminal prosecution as the doe and gop powers would not have wanted the bad press. I do wonder if he had a life insurance policy that could have covered all these debts and taken care of his family if he committed suicide. If the policy had a cash value, wonder if it will be exposed to light of day during discovery on this litigation.

  14. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-29

    An anonymous commenter sends the following complaint and goodbye:

    Wow Cory, did somebody get yo you? I know tons of people with more debt, and no family slayers among them. It’s just theft in the end, and people get revealed as drunks, wife beaters, pedophiles etc.., and somehow continue on in SD hometowns…

    The best coverage turns into “Yep, Just that Scott jerk” overnight.

    My last visit to DFP…

    This anonymous commenter misreads this article and misses the point recognized by MK, Mark, Leslie, and others: there is far more to the Mid-Central/GEAR UP scandal than the killing of the Westerhuis family. Like Richard Benda’s suicide in the GOED/EB-5 scandal, accepting that Scott Westerhuis killed his family and himself instead of accepting a conspiracy theory that had Jackley or Rounds or the Mafia sending a hit squad to Platte does not reduce the awfulness of the Pierre-sponsored corruption that led to those deaths one whit. Accepting the simpler, more straightforward explanation for the deaths does not change the need to hold Stacy Phelps, Melody Schopp, Rick Melmer, Mike Rounds, Dennis Daugaard, and other accountable for permitting, if not promoting, this robbery of the taxpayers and this violation of the public trust.

    I could get more blog hits by playing to the conspiracy theories. I could sign on with Lora Hubbel and say the sensational just to get attention. But I don’t play for ratings. I don’t choose to cling to juicier but less tenable hypotheses in the face of more logical, better evidenced explanations.

  15. Tim 2016-05-31

    At best it’s innocent-but-bumbling, ineffective state government. At worst, it’s something more sinister. Either way there’s more work to be done.

  16. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-31

    Exactly, Tim. Even if this murder-suicide is exactly what it is, with no hit man or Mafia link or other Hollywood angle, it’s still a scandal made possible by malfeasance in Pierre, and shoes need to drop on people in Pierre.

  17. Michael Wyland 2016-05-31


    While I don’t disagree that Pierre should be the center of the issue, I want to be sure we don’t lose sight of poor grants selection and grants administration by federal officials. There was ample evidence as soon as 2009 with the Brinda Kuhn evaluation that GEAR UP wasn’t working effectively. The 2011 final report on the 2005 grant indicated significant deficiencies. However, the feds awarded South Dakota another $22+ million in 2011 after the state failed to provide value to US taxpayers for the $6-$7 million the feds awarded the state in 2005.

  18. David Newquist 2016-05-31

    As old educators gather over coffee, the talk is about the subversion and perversion of the education community as revealed by the EB-5 and Bear Up scandals. Joop Bollen was given a job that was imposed on a university by the Regents. As NSU administrators testified in court, Bollen was not accountable to anyone in the university administration. However, the outgoing president of NSU was accountable and found that the budget support given to Bollen could not be justified anywhere in the mission of the university, which was under orders to trim the budget. Bollen’s International Business Institute was trimmed and given refuge at the Aberdeen Economic Development Corporation. NSU received another cloud over its reputation from the MCEC-Gear UP scandal because the Westerhuises were alumni of the NSU business department.

    It has much to do with running schools like businesses. Programs are set up to generate funds that can be leeched and bilked away. While the International Business Institute was supported, programs in the College of Arts and Sciences were severely scaled back. Back in the not-too-distant past, education co-operative were operated to provide special educational services that individual districts could not afford and to save money by sharing personnel and facilities. When the entrepreneurs came in and ran educational programs like businesses, they created cash cows that could be milked an bilked through that overlay of corporate entities that comprises so much of what global business has become.

    The tragedy of Benda and the Westerhuises is that they bought into the values of CEOs and the super bourgeois that revolve around “deal making.” And state government is a major sponsor and facilitator of those deals. And now the nation has a chance to have as its president what may be the ultimate expresser of those values.

    If the subversion and perversion of our education system has been successful enough, it may well happen.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2016-05-31

    Ah, layers of accountability. Good point, Michael! Bad oversight in Pierre and Washington allowed the Mid-Central players to abuse GEAR UP. Everyone needs a whoopin’.

  20. leslie 2016-05-31

    I like dave’s statement about the regents unscrupulous republican featherbedding but would like to know what source he can cite against Hillary that isn’t “just what everybody is saying” which is republican strategy.

    oh, and blame the feds for not trusting the governor of SD? the state had the presumption of square dealing. that is gone.

  21. leslie 2016-05-31

    oh, the idea that benda would have been too smart to commit suicide the way he did…a school mate did the same thing, and didn’t die, but had every intension. suicide is NOT rational. put the conspiracy theory away.

  22. leslie 2016-05-31

    since rounds won’t accept his responsibility for benda’s et al. fraud and daugaard has passed the buck already, the only possibility is deep investigation, like they are doing to Hillary, and then a political prosecution. a long road. The most notable example of passing the buck was the refusal of the United Kingdom, USA, France, or the Soviet Union to effectively confront Nazi Germany during the 1930s. wiki

    MCEC is curious. all these big republican players, but it is an Indian guy and an underling staffer that are taking it for our version of Chris Christie on the NJ/NY “democratic” lane closure. Jackley is a complete schill. a “hit man”. Indians here, on Gearup (“bearup” someone said), and on health care, and cultural issues like Pe’ Sla and Black Elk Peak proposal, are common targets for the state.

    We’ll have new ethics/conflicts ect. legislation but business as usual in SD republican state government. Do you suppose Stacey Phelps is/was naive?

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