Feb 18, 2016

Documents: Midwest Academy owner is sex abuse suspect

Lee Rood
Des Moines Register
February 18, 2016
Ben Trane, the director and owner of Midwest Academy, has no criminal record in Iowa.
Ben Trane, the director and owner of Midwest Academy, is a suspect in the sex abuse investigation involving a 17-year-old student who attended the tough-love school for troubled youths, court records released Thursday show.
Trane, 37, has no criminal record in Iowa. He has not responded to multiple requests for interviews by The Des Moines Register since the 13-year-old southwest Iowa boarding school closed last month.
A motion to seal search warrant documents was released Thursday showing that computers, cameras, cellphones and other electronic items were seized during the raid of the boarding school Jan. 28-29 at locations in Keokuk and Montrose.
“Also seized were items of trace evidence involving bodily fluids for DNA and related forensic examination,” the request to seal says.
Lee County Attorney Michael P. Short argued in the request to seal documents that it would be harmful to investigators, staff and students at the school to release details contained in the affidavits used to obtain the search warrants.
District Associate Judge Gary Noneman signed an order Feb. 10 in the case, State v. Trane, to seal those documents. But the Register & Tribune Co. filed a petition this week asking that the search warrant documents be released, citing the First Amendment and high public interest in the criminal investigation.
District Court Judge Mary Ann Brown on Thursday released Short’s motion to seal and Noneman’s order. She had already told lawyers in the case that a final decision could not be made about whether to release search warrant details without Short’s request being made public.
The documents released Thursday did not include the name of the student Trane is suspected of abusing. But it did say credit cards were also seized at the academy “to determine if those cards were used in connection with the purchase of items for female students.”
The request also cited "allegations of a pattern of child endangerment" in the use of the school’s isolation rooms. Records regarding the so-called OSS rooms, used for "protracted separation and detention of students," were also sought.
Twenty-eight students were assessed by child-abuse investigators during the two-day raid.
Also under investigation: whether students held in seclusion rooms were billed for counseling and other services not provided while they were detained. The motion to seal also alleged “a willful failure to provide the services required” by special-needs students who had individualized educational plans.
“Charges are under review, pending the completion of the investigation on the federal level as a result of the involvement of the FBI and the United States Attorney’s Office,” Short wrote in his motion to seal the search warrant. “Also under investigation on the state level are possible charges of sexual abuse, child pornography, child endangerment, fraudulent practices, and ongoing criminal conduct."
The request noted that a large number of potential witnesses had yet to be interviewed, including former students and staff.
The raid on Midwest Academy occurred after the accusation of sexual abuse was reported to Iowa’s Department of Human Services. Two staff members, one a mandatory child abuse reporter by law, made the report to authorities.
Since then, youths from across the country who attended the school have been sent home to parents or shelters. About 60 staff members were laid off.
The investigation is likely to continue for several months.

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