Indian students participated in a GEAR UP program in South Dakota. Photo: GEAR UP Yearbook
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Oglala Sioux Tribe seeks investigation into misuse of education funds

The Oglala Sioux Tribe is calling on authorities to investigate the misuse of federal education funds in South Dakota.

The tribe wants to know whether state officials, including one who was a former director of the Bureau of Indian Education during the Obama administration, "allowed or facilitated themselves to inappropriately financially benefit, at the expense of South Dakota Native American youth," according to a resolution being considered by state lawmakers on Wednesday.

"We want people to be held accountable for this," Lydia Bear Killer, who chairs the tribe's education committee, told The Sioux Falls Argus Leader. "Let’s not brush it under the carpet again."

The tribe's concerns stem from a scandal involving the theft of $1 million from GEAR UP, a federal program that is designed to help Indian and low-income students. Three people -- including Stacy Phelps, an Oglala citizen -- have been charged in connection with the scheme are are scheduled to go to trial in the summer of 2018, nearly two years after the indictments were announced.

But the alleged mastermind can't be held accountable. Scott Westerhuis, who was the founder of the company accused of stealing from GEAR UP, killed himself after murdering his wife and their four children in September 2015.

Phelps and Westerhuis aren't mentioned in Senate Concurrent Resolution 5, which is being considered by the Senate State Affairs Committee at a Wednesday morning meeting. Instead, the tribe names a slew of former state officials, including Keith Moore, who served as an advisor to the company that tied to the GEAR UP scam.

Moore, who is a citizen of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe, previously served as the director of Indian education for the state of South Dakota and as the director of the BIE. His stint at the BIE, a federal agency that's part of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, resulted in an investigation into ethical lapses but federal prosecutors declined to file charges.

Read More on the Story:
Tribe calls for special prosecutor to probe Gear Up, state employee ties (The Sioux Falls Argus Leader February 20, 2018)

An Opinion:
Brandon Ecoffey: Plenty Of Work Left Before Elections (The Lakota Country Times February 8, 2018)

Related Stories:
Brandon Ecoffey: South Dakota's attorney general is no friend to Indian Country (July 1, 2016)
Brandon Ecoffey: Open questions about Indian education scandal (April 1, 2016)
Lakota Country Times: Stacy Phelps appears in court in GEAR UP theft case (March 28, 2016)
Oglala man charged in connection with theft of $1M in Indian education funds (March 16, 2016)
Delphine Red Shirt: Scandal shuts down program for Indian youth (October 8, 2015)
Lakota Country Times: Program for Native students closes down (October 6, 2015)
Murder-suicide linked to Indian education grant in South Dakota (September 24, 2015)
Investigation faults former BIE officials over handling of contract (December 8, 2014)