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2018-08-30 / Front Page

The Persecution Of Stacey Phelps

Part 1: Correcting The Narrative
BY BRANDON ECOFFEY
LCT CORRESPONDENT

PINE RIDGE, S.D. – Across Indian Country, the story of white men arriving with promises of good fortune, but whom then end up stealing precious resources from tribal citizens has played itself out numerous times throughout history. In South Dakota, that very thing has taken place again, but the State government would like you to think otherwise.

On Sept 17, 2015, Scott Westerhuis, shot his four children and wife, prior to setting his home on fire and then turning the gun on himself. Westerhuis had been informed that very day by the South Dakota Secretary of Education Melody Schopp that the Mid- Central Education Cooperative would no longer receive a $4.3 million contract to run the GEAR-UP program. GEARUP was a program that helped Native American students earn college experience and better prepare themselves to take the next step on their educational journey.

GEAR-UP was funded by federal grant dollars awarded to the State of South Dakota. The South Dakota Department of Education then contracted the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative to carry out the deliverables in the grant.

For many, including the South Dakota media, the notion that the State had gotten wind of the theft of GEAR-UP dollars by Westerhuis and others was the reason why the contract had been taken. This version of the crime quickly spread as others involved with Mid- Central and the GEAR-UP program were implicated as co-conspirators in the theft.

While Westerhuis, cannot speak about the details of the crime, the state has charged multiple people in what they say was a conspiracy to steal money meant for Native American children. The problem with this theory is that audits by both federal and state agencies have determined that none of the money stolen by Westerhuis came from GEAR-UP funds.

Despite this revelation, news outlets like KELO and government organizations like the South Dakota attorney’s general office, have attempted to pass the blame on to others including Oglala Lakota citizen Stacey Phelps.

For those who do not know who Stacey Phelps is, he may be the most decorated and accomplished Native American educator in South Dakota history. For those who do know who he is, it is highly likely that he has been tainted by news coverage as somebody who helped Scott Westerhuis embezzle money meant for Native American students.

The charges facing Phelps, however, in no way relate or imply that he aided or knew of Westerhuis’s mass theft. So why has he been scapegoated by the press as a co-conspirator to a scheme that funneled millions into the coffers of Westerhuis and his wife? If Phelps is guilty of embezzlement or fraud, why has he not been charged with those crimes?

*This multi-part series will attempt to shine a different light on a topic that has been manipulated by non-native politicians in South Dakota, with the aid of their friends in the local media, to deflect blame away from state government, and on to one of the Indian Country’s most prominent sons. Through hours of research and interviews with legal experts this series will paint a new and more factually accurate telling of this story.

Contact Brandon Ecoffey at ecoffeyb@gmail.com

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