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Former educational cooperative director accepts plea deal

September 28, 2018

ARMOUR, S.D. (AP) — A former South Dakota educational cooperative official pleaded guilty Friday in an agreement with prosecutors to backdating a contract between his ex-employer and a nonprofit organization.

Former Mid-Central Educational Cooperative Director Dan Guericke pleaded guilty to one felony count of falsifying evidence, and his other charges were dropped as part of the deal, the Argus Leader reported . Guericke originally faced six felony counts alleging that he falsified evidence and conspired to offer forged or fraudulent evidence.

Sentencing for Guericke is set for Nov. 26. He faces a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a $4,000 fine. Mike Butler, Guericke’s attorney, said he plans to seek a suspended imposition so Guericke’s record will be cleared once his sentence is finished.

Attorney General Marty Jackley said in a statement that Guericke has accepted responsibility for his actions by making the guilty plea.

“As a condition of the plea, Guericke has agreed to cooperate with the further investigation and court proceedings” in the case, Jackley said.

Prosecutors accused Guericke and consultant Stacy Phelps of backdating contracts between Mid-Central and a nonprofit to avoid a potential audit of the nonprofit. Educational cooperatives provide services to member school districts in areas such as special education.

They were charged in 2016 after a financial investigation launched because Mid-Central business manager Scott Westerhuis shot his wife and their four children, then set fire to their home and killed himself in September 2015. Authorities have said they believe Westerhuis and his wife stole more than $1 million before their deaths.

Butler said Guericke acknowledged that he had backdated the contracts, but that he said he didn’t know about Westerhuis’ scheme.

“Dan had no idea what Scott Westerhuis was up to and nobody alleges he did,” Butler said. “Dan never took a penny. In no way did he ever profit from him and he never has. Dan was not part of what the Westerhuises were up to for several years.”

Guericke declined to comment to the newspaper.

Phelps’ trial is set to begin Oct. 3 in Sioux Falls. His lawyer, Dana Hanna, said Phelps won’t change his plea.

“He didn’t commit any crime, and we’re going to prove it,” Hanna said.

A jury in June cleared a former Mid-Central staffer accused of aiding in the scheme. Stephanie Hubers was found not guilty of grand theft, grand theft by deception and alternative receiving stolen property charges.

Prosecutors had accused Hubers of receiving about $55,000 to keep quiet about Westerhuis and his wife’s alleged theft.

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Information from: Argus Leader, http://www.argusleader.com

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