KELOLAND Investigates: GEAR UP
Since the deadly fire on Sept. 17, 2015 in Platte, SD, KELOLAND News has been investigating the GEAR UP Scandal. We uncovered a number of issues with the $62 million in GEAR UP Grant money that came through the state since 2005. The U.S. Department of Education awarded South Dakota the money to help prepare Native American students for college. The State was required to match every federal dollar. However, our investigation has shown there is no data to prove a single Native American student went to college because of GEAR UP.
When Scott Westerhuis killed his family and himself the Pandora’s Box was opened. Westerhuis was business manager of Mid Central Educational Cooperative, which was contracted out by the state to distribute the grant money. Hours before Westerhuis shot his four children, ranging in age from nine to 16, along with his wife Nicole, the state let Mid Central know there were problems and it was cancelling its contract with the cooperative.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley says after killing his family, Scott Westerhuis then set his home on fire and turned the gun on himself. Jackley ruled that Westerhuis acted alone.
Our investigation followed the money and found that there were a number of people involved with conflicts of interest. We also discovered that the state failed to deliver on promises to students and the federal government when it came to GEAR UP.
As the State’s investigation unfolded, we learned that the Westerhuises had embezzled as much as $2 million in grant money.
Three people have since been charged in one of the largest scandals in the state.
The federal investigation continues, as well as state audits that have been expanded in scope to follow the GEAR UP funds.