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Sun Apr 9, 2017, 06:02 PM

Lawmakers call for public hearings in Gear Up embezzlement scandal

A group of 20 lawmakers on Thursday sent a request to the chair of the state Government Operations and Audit Committee calling for a series of public meetings focused on state department, agency and board involvement in the Gear Up scandal.

In an email, the bipartisan group of legislators asked that Sen. Deb Peters, R-Hartford, set up the meetings probing the role state officials played in the alleged embezzlement scheme discovered after a Platte murder-suicide.

"We have a duty and an obligation to South Dakotans to fully identify and correct this problem," the group wrote in the message. "Accordingly, we request this be immediately docketed by the GOAC for public hearings."

Peters said the committee is already slated to take up the topic at its next meeting later this month. She said the panel won't look into the scandal as the office of the attorney general and the Department of Legislative Audit have already done that, but they will discuss new information in the case at that time.

Read more: http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/politics/2017/04/06/lawmakers-call-public-hearings-gear-up-scandal/100133296/

More background:

As court hearings continue for three who are alleged to have helped a Platte couple embezzle more than $1 million through an educational cooperative here is a look at Argus Leader Media's coverage of the Gear Up investigation so far.

On Sept. 17, 2015, Scott Westerhuis allegedly killed his wife, Nicole, and the couple's four children, Kailey, Jaeci, Connor and Michael, before taking his own life. The deaths came hours after South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp called the Westerhuis' employer, Mid-Central Education Cooperative, to notify the director that the group lost a $4.3 million contract. The news of the family's death cast a light on Mid-Central, a group of school districts that provides special education and regular education services to children. Scott Westerhuis was the co-op's business manager. Nicole Westerhuis also worked there.

Mid-Central also administered a multimillion-dollar federal Gear Up grant. The grants are aimed at helping high-poverty middle and high school students prepare for a postsecondary education.

Read more: http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/crime/2015/11/03/story-so-far-mid-central-scandal/75034810/

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