Exhibit 5 from Attorney General Marty Jackley’s new filing in the state’s case against GEAR UP player Stacy Phelps shows that Rick Melmer, the Education Secretary turned consultant who made six figures off GEAR UP contracts after steering the federal grant to his home folks back in Platte, may have some more questions to answer.
KSOO’s Beth Warden posts the document, which shows three text conversations (the participants are cited by e-mail address, but the messages read more like phone texts or Facebook messages) between Phelps and Mid-Central Educational Cooperative business manager Scott Westerhuis. One of those text conversations took place on February 28, 2014. Exhibit 5 lists these lines in reverse chronological order; I have cut and repasted them in chronological order and spaced them to mark changes in speaker:
This text is filled with these things, this, and it, pronouns without antecedents. Scott Westerhuis is dead, so the state will have to provide more bracketing text or call Stacy Phelps to the stand to tell us what exactly he and Westerhuis were talking about that night over that nearly three-hour span. But we can fill in some names:
- Keith is likely Keith Moore, former director of Indian Education, recipient of lucrative MCEC GEAR UP contracts.
- Rick is likely Rick Melmer, Moore’s pal, former Secretary of Education, recipient of lucrative MCEC GEAR UP contracts.
- TIE is Technology in Education, part of the Black Hills Special Services Cooperative, which employs Julie Mathiessen (who just stepped down from the state Board of Education last month) and Heather Schopp (daughter of Education Secretary Melody Schopp).
I’ll need to spend some time trying to place “walt”, “jodi”, and “sams”.
But on February 28, 2014, it appears Keith Moore was “asking way to[o] many questions” and making a decision to give someone a contract that didn’t please Phelps and Westerhuis, while Rick Melmer was “soft selling” something and “trying to defer the conversation.” Whether Phelps is being sarcastic in saying he likes Melmer’s soft selling is not clear from the text. Phelps anticipates TIE fighting back, and Westerhuis anticipates “a lot less money coming in.” (Note that Westerhuis expresses this financial concern two months before a long stretch of big-dollar discrepancies in MCEC’s financial reports suddenly ceased.) And Phelps expresses concern that AIII, the non-profit American Indian Institute for Innovation that he and Westerhuis were allegedly using to pilfer GEAR UP grant money, will be “kicked out.”
Keep those e-mails coming, A.G. Jackley. It appears there are more shoes to drop, or at least players to testify to explain just what the heck was going on between Phelps and Westerhuis in the GEAR UP scandal.