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Guericke pleads guilty to falsifying evidence

ARMOUR--One of the men accused of backdating contracts between the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative and the American Indian Institute for Innovation accepted a plea bargain Friday morning.

Mid-Central Educational Cooperative Director Dan Guericke, left, and cooperative board Chairwoman Pam Haukaas, right, attend a regular meeting of the organization's governing board. (Evan Hendershot/Republic)
Mid-Central Educational Cooperative Director Dan Guericke, left, and cooperative board Chairwoman Pam Haukaas, right, attend a regular meeting of the organization's governing board. (Evan Hendershot/Republic)

ARMOUR-One of the men accused of backdating contracts between the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative and the American Indian Institute for Innovation accepted a plea bargain Friday morning.

Dan Guericke, Mid-Central's former executive director, pleaded guilty to and was convicted of one count of falsifying evidence, a Class 6 felony, at the Douglas County Courthouse. In exchange, the state dropped five additional felony charges against Guericke.

The count to which Guericke, of White Lake, was convicted was specifically for a backdated contract between Mid-Central and AIII for the 2013-14 school year. Guericke had pleaded not guilty to all six charges more than two years ago.

"All of the felony counts were the same level of felony, because of the conspiracy charges, and so at this point, the state felt that it was a fair resolution," Attorney General Marty Jackley said after the trial. "We took into account the accepting responsibility for the backdating of the contract, and we took into account the willingness to cooperate and the value to that further investigation in the GEAR UP case, as well as further proceedings."

Guericke's attorney, Mike Butler,said that he would be arguing for a suspended imposition of the two-year maximum possible sentence for the remaining felony charge.

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The court ordered a pre-sentence investigation, and a sentencing hearing was set for Nov. 26. Prior to sentencing, both Butler and Jackley will each be allocated an hour for testimony. Butler said that during that time, he plans to bring forward people Guericke worked with in the education field.

"When you have a client, (the public) always see(s) the worst in them at a moment like this," Butler said. "I want them to hopefully see the Mr. Guericke that I know."

Guericke and consultant Stacy Phelps had been scheduled to go to trial next week as co-defendants, and Jackley said that now that Guericke will not be going to trial, Phelps' trial is estimated to last for about a week.

Prosecutors accused Guericke and Phelps of backdating contracts between Mid-Central and a nonprofit to avoid a potential audit. Phelps' defense attorney has said Phelps "didn't commit any crime" and will go to trial.

They were charged after a financial investigation launched because Mid-Central business manager Scott Westerhuis killed his family and himself in 2015 at his rural Platte home. Authorities believe Westerhuis stole more than $1 million before the deaths.

Butler said during the hearing that Guericke had no knowledge of Westerhuis' motivation, and both he and Jackley said that Guericke's acceptance of responsibility and the fact that Guericke did not benefit financially from the GEAR UP events, as the Westerhuises had, were some of the main factors in both sides coming to a plea agreement.

"What I can say at this point is that Dan Guericke has accepted responsibility for his actions (and) entered a guilty plea due to falsification of evidence as set forth in the indictment," Jackley said. "As a part of that guilty plea, he's agreed to cooperate with law enforcement on further investigations, as well as the court proceedings."

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