Two men featured in a new book about federal policies toward Native Americans have been linked to an unfolding corruption scandal since being interviewed by the author.

The book is “The New Trail of Tears: How Washington is Destroying American Indians,” by Naomi Schaefer Riley, of New York.

During her research over the past few years, she interviewed numerous people, including South Dakotans Stacy Phelps and Keith Moore.

In the book, Schaefer Riley profiles Phelps’ efforts to “turn around” a school at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Schaefer Riley also reports opinions on Native American education from Moore, the former director of the federal Bureau of Indian Education.

Since Schaefer Riley interviewed Phelps and Moore, each has been linked to a scandal that has enveloped South Dakota’s participation in the Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, known as GEAR UP.

Moore is not formally accused of any wrongdoing, but his reputation has suffered from revelations that he received nearly $100,000 to be a GEAR UP grant adviser for Mid-Central Educational Cooperative from October 2013 through August 2015, and that he failed to submit required work logs to state government to document what he was doing in exchange for the money.

Phelps has been charged with crimes for allegedly helping a Platte couple — Scott and Nicole Westerhuis — embezzle more than $1 million of federal GEAR UP grant funds that were intended to boost Native American college participation and success.

The federal grant money was passed through the state Department of Education to a contractor, the Mid-Central Educational Cooperative, for which the Westerhuises worked; in turn, the cooperative worked with Phelps’ American Indian Institute for Innovation to conduct GEAR UP programming in South Dakota.

Scott Westerhuis killed Nicole Westerhuis and the couple’s four children last September, soon after learning that state government was terminating a contract with Mid-Central because of concerns about the handling of GEAR UP funds.

Phelps, for his alleged role in aiding the Westerhuises’ embezzlement, is charged with two counts of falsification of evidence and two counts of conspiracy to offer forged or fraudulent evidence.

Schaefer Riley said in a Journal interview that the scandal emerged after she interviewed the men, and because details were still emerging as she worked on her book, her published text contains only a brief mention of it.

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Contact Seth Tupper at seth.tupper@rapidcityjournal.com

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