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Westerhuis Bully Profile Not Likely to Save Hubers from Guilty Verdict

The defense has rested in the Stephanie Hubers/GEAR UP trial in Sioux Falls. Judge Bruce Anderson gave the jury this afternoon off while he prepares his instructions and counsel prepare closing arguments. Hubers is probably toast, as the evidence presented so far makes her look like a willing participant in a scam she knew was shady:

Stephanie Hubers; screen cap from KDLT, 2018.06.26.
Stephanie Hubers; screen cap from KDLT, 2018.06.26.

In the recording, Hubers told investigators she knew Mid-Central was bankrolling the salaries of other organizations that Westerhuis started, but had been told the board of directors knew about it. She also said she didn’t want to speak out of turn at board meetings.

“I knew what it was,” Hubers said. “I guess I was the lesser person. I kept my mouth shut and kept going on” [Dana Ferguson, “Platte-Area Woman Had Questions About Westerhuis: ‘I Kept My Mouth Shut and Kept Going On’,” that Sioux Falls paper, 2018.06.27].

Hubers’s story that she got payments from Westerhuis for “research” sounds untenable:

The prosecutor for the state, under the direction of Attorney General Marty Jackley questioned DCI agent Brett Spencer, one of approximately eight agents on the Westehuis case, regarding Hubers being paid $10,000 annually for research. Spencer said they did not find any evidence of research being submitted to Westerhuis, who allegedly had contracted for Huber to do the research after hours on her phone while watching television at night. Marty Jackley asked Spencer if he could find justification to receive $55,000 in extra income. Spencer replied, “Legitimate reasons? No sir” [Beth Warden, “GEAR UP Trial: Hubers Friendship with Westerhuis Family Detailed in Undercover Audio,” KSOO, 2018.06.27].

Jackie Hendry notes that the defense supported Hubers’s claim that she was just following orders by calling coworkers who emotionally portrayed Scott Westerhuis as a bully:

Probably the most compelling witnesses were, the defense brought two other coworkers from Mid-Central. Both of those coworkers were in… data cleric/administrative assistant roles. When asked to describe what it was like working with Scott Westerhuis, both of those witnesses broke down in tears recollecting it, and both used really similar words. They talked about how he was very controlling, what he said goes. He was not a person you wanted to challenge in the workplace, and they also referred to him as a bit of a bully [transcript, Jackie Hendry, “State v. Hubers Trial Update,” SDPB Radio, 2018.06.28].

The defense may be bringing forward this portrait of Scott Westerhuis as a bully to tempt the jury into absolving Hubers of responsibility for her actions. The portrayal may be accurate. The documents and testimony that came our during last summer’s Government Operations and Audit Committee hearings on GEAR UP provided two examples of Westerhuis behaving arrogantly, in his treatment of then-director of the Office of Indian Education LuAnn Werdel when she raised questions about Mid-Central’s management of the federal grant sometime in 2009 or 2010, and in his comments to Werdel’s successor, Roger Campbell, in a “heated” meeting with South Dakota Department of Education officials in April 2012.

That portrait of Westerhuis may also support the Attorney General’s conclusion that Westerhuis killed his own family, burned down his own extravagant house, and killed himself. With the jig up in September 2015 and the law closing in, the bully was about to lose all of his power and control. The controlling man might well rather die than be subjugated to the authority of the sheriff, the judge, and the jailer. He might well rather destroy his property than let someone else enjoy it. He might well rather kill the nearest objects of his control, his wife and children, than let them live free of his control and share their lives with others. That murder-suicide is abominable, but within this psychological profile, it makes sense.

But the evidently violent bullying nature that Westerhuis hid behind the well-cultivated façade of upright Christian father, husband, and community man won’t save Stephanie Hubers from a guilty verdict. The testimony so far doesn’t suggest that Westerhuis bullied Hubers into taking any questionable money or keeping silent about any suspicions. From what’s been reported from the Sioux Falls courtroom, Stephanie Hubers sounds like a willing participant in the crimes that Scott Westerhuis committed in Platte.

Court reconvenes tomorrow


  1. mike from iowa 2018-06-28

    Not a word about unfathomable lack of state oversight-again?

  2. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-06-28

    Not in this trial. That will come from Guericke and Phelps and their lawyers, who will strive mightily to make the state the fall guy. I don’t think Hubers engaged enough with the state to make that a useful part of her defense.

  3. leslie 2018-06-28

    Imagine Jeff Sessions prosecuting Trump for collusion including obstruction, emoluments and treason. Before he gets caught, little fall guys will serve as distraction, and Trump will hurry to take what he and the GOP can in this hiatus: Trump’s next supreme ct nomination; Trump’s underwhelming Jong Un hurry’s to rebuild nuclear weapon infrastructure; Trump’s hurry to trade wars; Trump’s hurry to hold hostages: Dreamers, children of immigrants, Muslims legally travelling; Trump hurries to normalize meet with Putin;….


  4. Debbo 2018-06-28

    So Westerhuis was likely a domestic violence perp. DV is not always physical, but threats of physical attack, intimidation, etc., can be just as effective. Apparently he was very good at it because he had those 2 employees very frightened and miserable.

    It might have been a valuable defense tactic to bring in more witnesses to Westerhuis’ emotional cruelty. Fear of being subjected to the same can be an extremely powerful motivation to keep one’s head down, shut up, and hope to never attract any attention.

    Maybe that wasn’t the case, but I think the defense should have brought in some DV experts and explored it. At the least, it might have decreased sentencing.

  5. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-06-29

    Good point, Debbo, and probably a unique point to the Hubers trial. Westerhuis’s bullying probably won’t figure in the Guericke and Phelps trial, since they weren’t underlings. Guericke was Westerhuis’s boss, and Phelps sounds like an equal mastermind in the scheme, at least independent enough not to be subject to Westerhuis’s intimidation.

  6. John 2018-06-29

    Debbo: I get it; but I don’t. It’s a job. Walk away. She chose to stay. After the first incident she choose the harassment, belittling, bullying. She chose to not walk away. The ‘victim’ has self-determination. Too many tolerate such work behavior then think others should award or recognize them for their sacrifice and low self esteem. I suspect a jury would see similarly in a work situation.

  7. South DaCola 2018-06-29

    Yeah, I have a feeling it will take the jury about 45 minutes to come up with the guilty verdict. Creating a fake invoice for yourself, every month, is far from a normal ‘raise’ procedure. No one is that naïve. She knew exactly what was going on.

  8. Roger Elgersma 2018-06-29

    If she felt that the board knew already, she would not have been scared to ask them about it(to make sure she was doing it properly).

    If there was a heated meeting with the Department of Education in 2012, then the people in Pierre do not have an excuse to not have known. This implicates there compliance in a fraud as well.

  9. Roger Elgersma 2018-06-29

    Some say bullying, and some call it having control. If she stayed because she liked the amount of control he had and saw that as a guarantee that all those extra checks would keep coming her way, then she stayed because of what he was. And when she is writing checks wrongly and knew it was wrong, then she is totally guilty.

  10. Anne Beal 2018-06-29

    Interesting: LuAnn Werdell had warned Melody Schopp about “things” and then changed her story, Neal Tapio has always maintained that “somebody got to her.”

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2018-06-29

    45 minutes? We’re up to five hours now, no decision from the jury yet.

  12. David Newquist 2018-06-29

    Not guilty. Oy.

  13. Debbo 2018-06-29

    Wow. Why? What’s the word?

  14. The King 2018-06-29

    The not guilt verdict means something important come November, not clear to me though exactly what it means. Maybe the next Gear Up trial will come to mean something more? Regardless, I think these verdicts will impact and reflect the ethos of SD voters.

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