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Estate claims reveal Westerhuis' debts before murder-suicide

SIOUX FALLS (AP) -- A South Dakota man who authorities believe embezzled more than $1 million from his employer had significant debt when he killed his wife and four children before taking his own life last year, according to claims against his e...

SIOUX FALLS (AP) - A South Dakota man who authorities believe embezzled more than $1 million from his employer had significant debt when he killed his wife and four children before taking his own life last year, according to claims against his estate.

Mid-Central Educational Cooperative's late business manager, Scott Westerhuis, owed $15,000 for an outstanding credit card, nearly $46,000 to a man who worked on his property and nearly $120,000 in unpaid borrowing for vehicles.

Authorities say Westerhuis shot his wife and their four children, set fire to their house near Platte and killed himself in September.

Jim Brenner, who owns Jim's Electric in Armour, South Dakota, said he's struggling to pay bills without the money Westerhuis owed for renovations to a storage building and the family's gymnasium.

"It is frustrating," Brenner said. "But, I guess, what do you do?"

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Court files showed claims including more than $15,000 for an American Express credit card balance and nearly $4,500 owed on an online payment account. Westerhuis also had nearly $120,000 in unpaid loans on a boat, a pair of four-wheelers and four vehicles. The Ft. Randall Federal Credit Union has a claim against Westerhuis' estate, but a manager declined to comment to the newspaper.

Authorities say Scott and Nicole Westerhuis used the nonprofit American Indian Institute for Innovation, where they had fiscal oversight, to embezzle money from their employer, Mid-Central, before their deaths.

Three current or former Mid-Central employees have been indicted on felony charges stemming from a financial investigation surrounding the GEAR UP program launched after the murder-suicide.

Scott Westerhuis killed his family just hours after the state informed Mid-Central it was losing a contract for GEAR UP - a federal program aimed at helping high-poverty middle and high school students prepare for college - because of financial problems and accounting failures.

Court documents from the criminal investigation say the couple took money from Mid-Central's bank account without authorization to fund the Institute's payroll. At the end of November 2015, the Institute owed Mid-Central as much as $826,000 for payroll, according to a filing.

The estate issues, including a $2 million claim against Scott Westerhuis' estate from Mid-Central and a claim from the Department of Education, sit among a tangle of civil litigation sparked by the GEAR UP scandal.

The personal representative for Westerhuis' estate has sent out notices to claimants that it may be insolvent. The administrator declined to comment.

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